Environmental health practitioners use their scientific and technical ability to ensure people are able to live, work and play in safe, healthy environments

As an environmental health practitioner (EHP) you'll develop, implement and enforce health policies using specialist technical skills and knowledge to maintain and safeguard standards relating to people's health and well-being. You may work in many areas of the industry, or choose to specialise in one of the following:

  • 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.

Your role will involve close liaison with officers from related council departments, as well as with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Alternative job titles include: officer, adviser, educator, consultant, manager or enforcement officer.

Responsibilities

As an environmental health practitioner, you'll need to:

  • carry out routine or unplanned visits and inspections to ensure compliance with health and safety legislation and take action to improve conditions
  • provide advice and assistance to householders and businesses
  • take photos, produce drawings, remove samples and conduct interviews as part of the inspection process
  • investigate complaints from the general public
  • carry out food hygiene and food standards inspections
  • investigate accidents at work and complaints about poor standards of health and safety, identifying any areas of negligence
  • investigate outbreaks of infectious disease and prevent it spreading any further
  • take water samples to maintain and improve standards in public swimming and bathing areas as well as private water supplies
  • monitor radiation activity, taking action when safety levels have been exceeded
  • ensure the health and welfare of animal livestock on farms and other premises, as well as during transportation
  • issue licences for pet shops and other animal-related businesses
  • advise on planning and licensing applications
  • monitor levels of noise, air, land and water pollution
  • give talks at public enquiries, meetings and exhibitions and ensure compliance through education, advice and enforcement
  • take enforcement action, initiate legal proceedings, prepare and give evidence in court
  • advise on health and safety issues in relation to new buildings and developments
  • arrange for the removal of abandoned vehicles and refuse.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries range between £25,000 and £35,000.
  • Senior or managerial level salaries, e.g. after ten to 15 years in the role, fall between £38,000 and £60,000.
  • Higher salaries may be possible in more advanced posts, such as heads of department.

Salaries vary between local authorities and according to the specific role and area of work. Some authorities have performance-related pay schemes. You may earn more working in a private company, than in the public sector.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll usually work 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. However, given the nature of the job, evening or weekend work may be necessary at times.

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

  • 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.
  • The work is diverse and varied. In some cases, work may be stressful and confrontational, sometimes requiring police help, especially when enforcing regulations.
  • You'll be expected to dress smartly, 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 find employment abroad.
  • For the majority of posts, the role will involve travel within the working day, although absence from home overnight is uncommon.

Qualifications

To become a qualified EHP, you must obtain an honours degree or Masters in environmental health from a university accredited by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH). This applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland - in Scotland, it's 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.

If you have at least a second class honours degree in another subject, or equivalent qualifications and experience, you may be able to enrol on an accredited postgraduate MSc course. To do this, you'll usually need a degree in a science-based discipline or a subject closely related to environmental health.

If you've completed an accredited foundation degree programme, you may be able to top up to an accredited BSc degree. Without a degree, it may be possible to work as an environmental health technician while studying part time for a degree in environmental health.

For a list of accredited courses, search for postgraduate courses 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.

For an overview of work activities in the different specialist roles, visit CIEH.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • excellent written and oral communication skills
  • confidence in dealing with the public
  • good report-writing skills
  • a strong scientific ability and technical understanding
  • the ability to be assertive, diplomatic and sensitive to other people's views
  • 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
  • the ability to work to tight deadlines and under pressure
  • good time-management and organisational skills, including being able to manage your own workload well
  • self-motivation
  • a flexible approach to work
  • IT skills
  • a full UK driving licence - required for most positions.

Work experience

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

Employers

You can find work as an environmental health practitioner with the following employers:

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:

The armed forces offer a range of EHP opportunities:

Recruitment agencies such as Osborne Richardson also handle EHP vacancies.

Professional development

Your training will involve a combination of academic study and practical training, including the completion of a portfolio. 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.

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.

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

On successful completion, the Certificate of Registration is awarded by the Environmental Health Registration Board (EHRB), which is administered by 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

In training to become a qualified environmental health practitioner, you'll gain the broad knowledge base required for the generalist role. You can then choose either to continue in a general career, where you’ll work in a team headed by a team leader or senior officer and deal with a range of functions, or to specialise in a particular area.

General practitioners are often in demand in smaller, mainly rural, local authorities where they will deal with all environmental-related activities. While larger organisations tend to offer more opportunity for specialist development in more defined role, such as food safety, health and safety at work, housing or public health.

Gaining chartered status and undertaking agreed levels of continuing professional development (CPD) will enable progression to more senior posts. 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.

Other prospects include becoming the head of a much larger department, employing other built environment professionals and switching between local authorities and private sector in order to gain a broader experience and seek more senior positions. Lecturing and overseas work is also possible.