Environmental health officers are responsible for carrying out measures for protecting public health, including administering and enforcing provincial legislation related to environmental health and providing support to minimize health and safety hazards. They are involved in a variety of activities, for example, inspecting food facilities, investigating public health nuisances, and implementing disease control. Environmental health officers are focused on prevention, consultation, investigation, and education of the community regarding health risks and maintaining a safe environment.
Imagine you work in a small mining town in the middle of one of the world’s richest deposits of silver, lead, and zinc. You are an environmental health officer working for the local health unit to combat the detrimental health effects that are the legacy of more than 100 years of mining in the area, chief among them being lead poisoning. For several years, many residents have exhibited symptoms of lead poisoning. Environmental testing has confirmed elevated levels of lead in soil and water samples from the area. In response to these issues, you and your colleagues have developed a lead management program for the town that will educate residents on the health risks associated with lead and strategies for avoiding lead poisoning.
As an environmental health officer, you play a huge role in implementing the new lead management program designed to address the rising number of lead poisoning cases in the town. As part of the program, community screening centres have been set up where residents can be screened for high lead levels in their blood. While they are there, you answer their questions and offer advice on safe practices that will minimize exposure to lead, particularly for families with small children. Other days, you visit residents at home to help them identify potential sources and pathways whereby lead can enter the body. You also take soil and drinking water samples from homes, which will be analyzed for lead content as part of the ongoing monitoring process.
Part of the program also has you using local media sources to educate residents about the symptoms and treatment for lead poisoning, as well as strategies for decreasing their exposure to and intake of lead. Your work as an environmental health officer is helping to minimize health risks and protecting the public while these contaminants are cleaned up.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental health officer:
Environmental health officers work in a variety of locations, including:
In the office:
In the field:
There are a number of places environmental health officers can find employment. They include:
If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental health officer, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental health officer is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental health officer, you must complete an environmental health program at one of the following institutions:
In order to work as an environmental health officer, you must be certified with the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors (CIPHI). The certification process includes field placement and written and oral exams. For more information, see the CIPHI website (http://www.ciphi.ca).
I worked as a canoe coach for two summers. During my duties on the water, I watched environmental health workers throughout the summer. Their work seemed fun and interesting. The following summer, I was hired as a Community Health Representative trainee to work specifically in environmental health. I worked fulltime in that position for two years. My community, Kahnawake, wanted to have a local Environmental Health Coordinator and the opportunity was posted.
I applied and was chosen for the position. The community offered to pay for part of my education, if I was going to return to Kahnawake. Thanks to their partial funding, I completed my Bachelor of Applied Science from Ryerson University and returned to my community to work fulltime as the Environmental Health Officer. I am currently enrolled in a graduate diploma program in administration at Concordia University. I plan to transfer to a Masters in Business Administration upon completion of the diploma. I am not sure what kind of job I want twenty or thirty years from now.
I think that life is about learning. My life has been a process. I didn’t wake up one day and decide what I would do for the rest of my life. I do know that I want to work for and within my community to improve the health and well being of Kahnawake. I’m from this community, and I know what we need. I want us to have the knowledge and autonomy to make decisions on our own.