Environmental Health Officer

What is an environmental health officer? 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.

At a Glance

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.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental health officer:

  • Conduct surveys and monitoring programs of the natural environment to identify sources of pollution
  • Collect biological and chemical samples and specimens for analysis; measure physical, biological and chemical workplace hazards; and conduct safety and environmental audits
  • Investigate health and safety-related complaints, spills of hazardous chemicals, outbreaks of diseases or poisonings and workplace accidents
  • Inspect workplaces to ensure that equipment, materials and production processes do not present a safety or health hazard to employees or to the general public
  • Develop, implement and evaluate health and safety programs and strategies
  • Initiate enforcement procedures to fine or to close an establishment contravening municipal, provincial or federal regulations
  • Provide consultation and deliver training programs to employers, employees and the general public on issues of public health, environmental protection or workplace safety.
  • Recommend measures to help protect workers from potentially hazardous work methods, processes, or materials.
  • Inspect or evaluate workplace environments, equipment, or practices to ensure compliance with safety standards and government regulations.
  • Collaborate with engineers or physicians to institute control or remedial measures for hazardous or potentially hazardous conditions or equipment.
  • Develop or maintain hygiene programs, such as noise surveys, continuous atmosphere monitoring, ventilation surveys, or asbestos management plans.
  • Collect samples of dust, gases, vapours, or other potentially toxic materials for analysis.
  • Investigate health-related complaints and inspect facilities to ensure that they comply with public health legislation and regulations.
  • Collect samples of hazardous materials or arrange for sample collection.

Work Environment

Environmental health officers work in a variety of locations, including:

In the office:

  • Doing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
  • Preparing inspection and assessment results
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, colleagues, government officials, and the public, and presenting inspections and assessment results to clients
  • Developing public information campaigns on health issues

In the field:

  • Conducting inspections or assessments
  • Investigating complaints from the public and disease reports
  • Implementing control measures
  • Collecting food, water, air, and soil samples
  • Making presentations on health issues to clients and the public

 

Where to Work

There are a number of places environmental health officers can find employment. They include:

  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal governments
  • Health units
  • Private industry, for example, food production and manufacturing
  • Self-employed consultant


Search for jobs on the ECO Canada job board.

Education and Skills

If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental health officer, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • English

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental health officer is a university undergraduate degree. If you’re 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:

  • Ryerson University
  • British Columbia Institute of Technology
  • Concordia University College of Alberta
  • Cape Breton University
  • First Nations University of Canada

In order to work as an environmental health officer, you must be certified by 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).

To qualify for the Certificate of Public Health Inspection (Canada) designation, candidates must:

  • Hold an approved bachelor’s degree in environmental health
  • Have completed 12 weeks of acceptable fieldwork
  • Pass oral examinations
  • Submit two field reports

Once certified, they must maintain their certification by pursuing continuing education in their field.

Skills

Hard/ Technical Skills (skills obtained through formal education and training programs)

  • Knowledge of environmental legislation and regulations
  • Inspecting and testing sites

Soft Skills (personal attributes and characteristics)

  • Active listening
  • Critical thinking
  • Oral and written communication
  • Time management
  • Attention to detail

Environmental employers look for professionals who can combine technical knowledge with soft skills. Watch our free webinar “Essential Not Optional: Skills Needed to Succeed in Canada’s Environmental Industry” or take our Essential Skills courses.

Education and Skills

David Montour

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.

Your Impact

An environmental health officer investigates health hazards in a wide variety of settings and will take action to mitigate or eliminate the hazards. They can word in a huge variety of places including inspecting swimming pools, substandard housing conditions, shelters, public schools, day cares, nursing homes, conveyances (I.e., cruise ships, ferries, airplanes, trains) and personal service establishment. Environmental Health Officers create permits and inspect wells, private water systems, and individual subsurface sewage disposal (septic) systems.

They also play a vital role in community projects such as those concerning health promotion, health equity, healthy built environments/healthy communities, food security, and emergency preparedness.

Environmental health officers keep our water, food, air, land, facilities and other environmental factors safe of health hazards, whether biological, chemical or physical. They also address the related factors that impact behaviours.

They may assess and control environmental factors that can potentially affect health, work to prevent disease and create health-supportive environments.

Environmental determinants of health play a major role in a community’s overall health and well-being, and with that in mind, environmental health officers are essential in improving population health outcomes and reducing the burden of disease.

Environmental health officers usually have an understanding of microbiology, epidemiology, parasitology, chemistry, toxicology, risk assessment, law, environmental science and technology, pest control, food science, the built environment, and other relevant fields. You also have the knowledge and skills for the tracking and control of communicable diseases, investigation of environmental health related incidents and if need be, criminal investigations.

Occupational Classification

Individuals employed as environmental health officers may be classified as:

What is a NOC Code?

The National Occupation Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data, describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

The NOC is developed and updated in partnership with Statistics Canada to coincide with the 5- year census cycles. It is based on in-depth occupational research and consultations conducted across Canada, to reflect changes in the Canadian labour market

The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.

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