Environmental health practitioners (EHPs), also known as officers, act as advisers, educators, consultants, managers and enforcement officers, ensuring people are able to live, work and play in safe, healthy environments.

EHPs are responsible for developing, implementing and enforcing health policies, using specialist technical skills and knowledge to maintain and safeguard standards relating to people's health and well-being. They may be generalists or may specialise in specific areas of the industry, such as:

  • environmental protection;
  • food safety and food standards;
  • health within the armed services;
  • housing;
  • noise control;
  • occupational health and safety;
  • pollution control;
  • public health;
  • waste management.

They liaise closely with officers from related council departments, as well as with Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Responsibilities

Tasks vary according to whether you deal with all environmental health issues or specialise in a particular area. However, typical activities are likely to include:

  • carrying out routine or unplanned visits and inspections to ensure compliance with health and safety legislation and taking action to improve conditions;
  • providing advice and assistance to householders and businesses;
  • taking photos, producing drawings, removing samples and conducting interviews as part of the inspection process;
  • investigating complaints from the general public;
  • carrying out food hygiene and food standards inspections;
  • investigating accidents at work and complaints about poor standards of health and safety, as well as identifying areas of negligence;
  • investigating outbreaks of infectious disease and preventing it spreading any further;
  • taking water samples to maintain and improve standards in public swimming and bathing areas as well as private water supplies;
  • monitoring radiation activity, taking action when safety levels have been exceeded;
  • ensuring the health and welfare of animal livestock on farms and other premises, as well as during transportation;
  • issuing licences for pet shops and other animal-related businesses;
  • advising on planning and licensing applications;
  • monitoring levels of noise, air, land and water pollution;
  • giving talks at public enquiries, meetings and exhibitions, as well as ensuring compliance through education, advice and enforcement;
  • taking enforcement action, initiating legal proceedings, preparing and giving evidence in court;
  • advising on health and safety issues in relation to new buildings and developments;
  • arranging for the removal of abandoned vehicles and refuse.

For an overview of work activities in the different specialist roles, see the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH).

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries range between £25,000 and £35,000.
  • The range of typical salaries at senior or managerial level, e.g. after ten to 15 years in role fall between £38,000 and £60,000.

Salaries vary between local authorities and according to the specific role and area of work. Higher earnings are possible with progression to senior management or head of department positions. Some authorities have performance-related pay schemes. Environmental health practitioners (EHPs) working in private companies may earn more than those in the public sector.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

EHPs in local authorities will normally work a 9am to 5pm, 35 to 40-hours week, Monday to Friday. However, given the nature of the work, evening or weekend work may be necessary.

Local authorities will generally offer a number of flexible working opportunities, including part-time work, job share, reduced or compressed hours and working from home.

What to expect

  • EHPs in the public sector are eligible to join the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). Private sector schemes do exist, although will usually not be as generous.
  • Career breaks are possible, although self-employment and freelance work is unusual. Casual employment through agencies is more common.
  • Although the majority of EHPs are office based, they spend a significant amount of time on-site, for example visiting shops, restaurants, factories and offices, as well as people's homes.
  • Working conditions may occasionally be dirty and unpleasant, e.g. when inspecting unclean or unsafe buildings and site visits can be conducted in all weathers.
  • There is currently a fairly even gender split within the profession.
  • The work is diverse and varied. In some cases, work may be stressful and confrontational, sometimes requiring police help, especially when enforcing regulations.
  • EHPs are expected to be smartly dressed, although it may be necessary to wear protective clothing on some sites.
  • Opportunities exist throughout the UK in most large towns and cities. Overseas work or travel is uncommon, although there are opportunities for EHPs to obtain employment abroad.
  • For the majority of posts, the role will involve travel within the working day, although absence from home overnight is uncommon.
  • A company car is not usually offered, but mileage for site visits or travelling to meetings is generally payable.

Qualifications

To become a qualified environmental health practitioner (EHP) you must obtain an honours degree (BSc) or postgraduate degree (MSc) in environmental health, from a university accredited by the CIEH. This applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in Scotland it is the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS).

Accredited courses are available in full time, part time or integrated/sandwich formats. Study is combined with work-based learning plus professional assessments after graduating, before becoming a fully qualified EHP.

Graduates with at least a second class honours degree in another subject, or whom have equivalent qualifications and experience, may be able to enrol on an accredited postgraduate MSc course. Candidates are usually expected to hold a degree in a science-based discipline or a subject closely related to environmental health.

Graduates from accredited foundation degree programmes may be able to top up to an accredited BSc degree.

For a list of accredited foundation, BSc and MSc courses see the CIEH website. Search for postgraduate courses in environmental health.

For those without a degree, it is possible to work as an environmental health technician while studying part time for a degree in environmental health.

You can join the armed forces and undertake training and study to become an environmental health officer or technician. See their individual websites for further information.

Competition for course places may be high so it is advisable to apply early. In some instances, relevant work experience is a prerequisite. Training placements are embedded within courses but students may need to find their own placement, which may be easier to do if you have already made contact with a relevant organisation. Training placements are offered by a range of organisations, including:

  • local authorities;
  • private sector companies;
  • central government departments;
  • the National Health Service.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • excellent communication skills, both written and oral;
  • confidence in dealing with the public;
  • report-writing skills;
  • a strong scientific ability and technical understanding;
  • assertiveness and diplomacy skills, being sensitive to other people's views;
  • the ability to work to tight deadlines and under pressure;
  • good decision-making skills;
  • the ability to work independently and as a member of a team;
  • a methodical, careful approach to gathering facts and assessing evidence;
  • time management and organisational skills, as well as the ability to manage your own workload;
  • self-motivation;
  • a flexible approach to work;
  • IT skills.

A full UK driving licence is required for most positions.

Work experience

Pre-entry work experience is useful as it can provide an insight into the profession, as well as helping to secure training placement opportunities. Local authorities may offer short periods of work experience. It may be possible to work shadow an experienced practitioner to find out more about the profession.

Employers

Many environmental health practitioners (EHPs) are employed by local authorities and are responsible for protecting public health, housing conditions, food safety, environmental protection and health and safety at work.

Local authority environmental health departments tend to contain both chartered practitioners and a range of technical officers who have competencies in one or more of the specialised areas.

EHPs are also employed by supermarkets, the NHS and the armed forces, as well as central government and its agencies, such as the:

There are also opportunities with companies in the private sector, including:

  • holiday companies (checking the standards of foreign hotels and resorts);
  • airlines/shipping companies (ensuring health and safety requirements are being met);
  • public and private organisations employing occupational health specialists.

Opportunities also exist for experienced EHPs to work for private consultancies in specialist roles, for example advising businesses of their legal duties and helping them maintain good environmental standards.

Accredited BSc and MSc courses are accepted worldwide and opportunities are available with organisations such as the European Commission and in countries such as the USA, New Zealand, Australia and Canada.

There are also opportunities in the developing world where EHPs work to ensure the sustainable development of communities.

Look for job vacancies at:

Recruitment agencies also handle vacancies.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Becoming qualified as an environmental health practitioner (EHP) involves a combination of academic study and practical training. This can be done through either a sandwich course, which integrates theoretical training with practical training, or end-on practical training after academic study.

The practical training element can be undertaken through a formal training placement with a local authority or by gaining experience from a number of relevant organisations.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland courses must be accredited by the CIEH, in Scotland, the REHIS is the accrediting body, and in Ireland career and training information can be obtained from the Environmental Health Association of Ireland.

Graduates undertake structured professional practice training. The completion of a portfolio through learning in a relevant work environment forms part of the pathway to qualification as an EHP.

The portfolio is based upon practical learning and reflective practice and requires candidates to undertake a range of interventions, develop a variety of skills and reflect upon their experiences. The following specialist areas are covered:

  • food safety;
  • health and safety;
  • housing and health;
  • environmental protection;
  • public health.

On successful completion, the Certificate of Registration is awarded by the Environmental Health Registration Board (EHRB), which is administered by the CIEH. This signifies qualified EHP status and is the qualification recognised by government bodies and local authorities.

In Scotland, you will be awarded the REHIS Diploma in Environmental Health, the qualification required to become an Environmental Health Officer.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is required to maintain professional status. All practising CIEH members have to undertake a set requirement of CPD hours per year, which involves attendance at courses, seminars and conferences, where other relevant skills, such as management training, may also be developed.

Career prospects

Many environmental health practitioners (EHPs) work in teams, headed by a team leader or senior officer, and will pursue a general career where they deal with a range of functions. Everyone who trains to become a qualified EHP will gain the broad knowledge base required for the generalist role.

Those who decide to remain as general practitioners are most in demand in smaller, mainly rural, local authorities where they will deal with all environmental-related activities.

However, there are also an increasing number of opportunities to become specialists in specific areas of environmental health, such as food safety, health and safety at work, housing or public health. Larger organisations offer more opportunities to develop specialised, more defined roles.

Gaining chartered status and undertaking agreed levels of continuing professional development (CPD) will enable progression to more senior posts. Chartered status is the highest possible professional status and is recognition of an individual's professional qualifications, training, experience within, and commitment to, environmental health practice.

There are many opportunities for career development, especially within local authorities that have large environmental health departments, with well-established promotion routes to more senior posts.

Opportunities may also exist to become head of a much larger department employing other built environment professionals. It is also possible for professionals to move between local authorities and between organisations in the private sector in order to gain a broader experience and seek more senior positions.

There are opportunities to move into lecturing work in universities or as a consultant, which can provide more scope for the development of personal interests. There are also opportunities for employment overseas, with British qualifications widely accepted and respected in many countries.