What is an environmental health officer?

A protector of public health. A community hero. Someone who makes sure we can work, live and play in clean and healthy environments. Already ticking the ‘do good, feel good’ boxes for you? 

Green landscape with technology interfaces

What is an environmental health officer?

Let’s take a short trip back to 1800s England. After a typhus outbreak, Edwin Chadwick, a social reformer, convinced authorities to fund an inquiry into the issue of sanitation services in lower socio-economic neighbourhoods.

He pushed for clean drinking water, improved drainage and the building of sewers, removal of rubbish from houses, streets and roads, as well as for the appointment of a medical officer in each council area. 

The government finally passed the Public Health Act of 1848, but only after a severe outbreak of cholera.

Since then, the field of environmental health has developed and today, officers are responsible for monitoring and enforcing health and hygiene legislation.  

In Victoria, a majority of environmental health officers work for local governments, followed by the state government and then the private sector. 

Apart from ‘environmental health officer’, you may also find advertisements for these positions:

  • Environmental health technician
  • Environmental health manager
  • Public health officer
  • Health, safety and environmental officer

What is environmental health?

Environmental health falls under public health. It’s concerned with the relationships people have with their surroundings. The goal of environmental health is to maintain human health and wellbeing. 

Healthy environments can be said to have:

  • Clean air
  • Stable climate
  • Sufficient water and sanitation
  • Non-polluting agriculture and production practices
  • Well-designed built environments—not too crowded, with good airflow 
  • Green spaces

What are the three types of environmental health?

The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is a data-driven summary of the state of sustainability around the world. It ranks 180 countries on environmental health, climate change performance and ecosystem vitality. 

To measure environmental health, the EPI considers three categories:

  • Health impacts
  • Air quality
  • Water and sanitation

Why is environmental health important?

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, having food, water and safety are basic needs. Being in a healthy environment provides a sense of comfort, improving quality of life and allowing people to focus on higher level pursuits. It positively impacts lifespan as well. 

A healthy environment can help reduce disease outbreaks or minimise the severity of disease.

Environmental health is also intrinsically linked to addressing the climate crisis. Mining, drilling and burning fossil fuels release huge amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the air—trapping heat in the atmosphere, leading to extreme weather like bushfires and floods. 

Just 20 fossil fuel companies produce one third of all greenhouse gases. By reducing or stopping fossil fuel production and usage, these companies could dramatically improve our prospects of an environmentally healthy future.

What does an environmental health officer do?

Quite often, environmental health officers are called to investigate incidents related to air, water or noise pollution, waste management, pest infestations, food poisoning and clusters of disease in the community.

In addition, officers also do the following:

  • Advise on and enforce legislation related to environmental health 
  • Develop and maintain health management plans and occupational health and safety (OH&S) plans
  • Implement strategies to address communicable diseases, food safety, waste water treatment and disposal
  • Develop and monitor programs to minimise workplace and environmental pollution involving hazardous substances
  • Make and implement plans for safe and appropriate disposal of commercial, industrial, medical and household waste
  • Inspect and audit workplaces and processes for compliance
  • Control risk and assesses hazards in workplaces
  • Teach employees to use protective equipment and safe working practices

An environmental health officer’s salary

At the time of writing, on average an environmental health officer earns $90,905 a year. With experience, this can go up to just under $112,000 a year or more. 

What’s more, job opportunities in this area are expected to grow 15.9% between 2021–2026. If you’re thinking about making this your career, there’s never been a better time!

Where can you study environmental health?

Most employers prefer candidates with a bachelor degree in environmental health, public health or a related area. Some workers have diploma-level environmental health qualifications; however, to advance in your career, you may choose to do further study. 

Should you wish to study online, you could pick from these undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in environmental health. Alternatively, these public health courses will give you a solid grounding in the area before you then specialise in environmental health.

Prefer to do a taster course before you commit to a full degree? A single subject, short course or microcredential might just be what you’re looking for. 

As the world continues to place priority on environmental health, now your chance to enter this increasingly important field. 


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