What is Environmental Health

What is "Environmental health"?

Environmental health addresses all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting behaviours. It encompasses the assessment and control of those environmental factors that can potentially affect health. It is targeted towards preventing disease and creating health-supportive environments. This definition excludes behaviour not related to environment, as well as behaviour related to the social and cultural environment, and genetics.  (World Health Organisation, 2020). 

Who are Environmental Health Professionals (EHPs)?

The environmental health profession had its modern-day roots in the sanitary reform movement initiated in the United Kingdom in the 1850s and then with similar changes in Australia around the time of the gold rushes.

EHPs are employed around the world and maybe known as sanitarians, public health inspectors, environmental health specialists, environmental health officers, or environmental health practitioners. In Australia, EHPs are employed in both the government and private sectors. But generally, they are employed as Environmental Health Officers in local government where their broad skills and knowledge are essential in providing health protection services in the local community.

When it comes to public health services, EHPs are the primary public health practitioners within local government and, as such, they make a unique and significant contribution to the community’s health.

What do Environmental Health Officers do?

The practice of Environmental Health has been defined as, ” …the assessment, correction, control and prevention of environmental elements that can potentially adversely affect human health…”  (Department of Health and Ageing/enHealth 1999) Consequently, you will see EHOs working in the following areas:

  • Food safety – monitoring of standards relating to food premises, food preparation processes, food labelling and its composition
  • Infectious disease control – surveillance of activities such as body piercing, personal health services, accommodation standards, and recreational water standards
  • Specialised infectious disease control – mosquito control programs for Ross River Virus, Dengue Fever, Kunjin, Barmah Forest Virus, and Murray Valley Encephalitis
  • Immunisation programs for children and adults
  • Pest control particularly for pests that have a public health significance, i.e. rodents
  • Waste management including domestic wastewater systems in un-sewered areas, solid waste management services, recycling, medical, infectious and hazardous waste management
  • Environmental pollution investigation and control, such as noise emissions and indoor air quality
  • Housing standards
  • Public health emergency response and incident management

In addition to these direct services, EHOs are also heavily involved in planning and policy development around:

  • emergency management
  • climate change and its local health  impacts (e.g. heatwave response planning)
  • land-use planning
  • local public health planning (food and water security; UV radiation)

If I have an issue, where can I find an Environmental Health Officer to help me?

You can generally find your local Environmental Health Officer at your local Council Office. They are there to help you and the other members of your community, make use of their skills and ensure your community enjoys a high level of health protection.

If you have any further questions, please email or call (03 9438 5960) our Executive Officer

 

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