Environmental health: unseen and unheard but vitally important

If I were to ask you to describe what “environmental health” was you might take an intelligent guess and suggest it was something, obviously, to do with the environment, things like air pollution, waste and recycling. 

Well you wouldn’t be too far off mark but environmental health is so much more than that.

Simply put, environmental health is the practice of improving and protecting people’s health, safety and wellbeing. It dates back to the 1800s with the first philanthropic pioneers of sanitation. The father figure of environmental health is Edwin Chadwick, the great English social reformer noted for his work to reform the Poor Laws and to improve living and working conditions and public health.

Environmental Protection, covering disciplines such as monitoring air quality, land contamination and private water supply, is merely one area of environmental health. Today, environmental health incorporates the disciplines of food, housing, health and safety in the workplace and health protection.

Environmental Health Professionals (EHPs) are the workforce behind environmental health and are employed across the public, private and third sectors. They provide support and advice, working with businesses, local communities and individuals to ensure the standards and legislation associated with environmental health are maintained and upheld for the protection of the public.

Take food for example. We all like to go out for a meal, enjoy the occasional takeaway or sitting down to eat a three-course meal at a friend’s wedding. But let’s be honest, most of us take it for granted that what we eat is not going to make us sick.

The vast majority of food businesses, takeaways, restaurants and caterers, ensure the food they serve is of the highest standard and it is EHPs who are the check and balance in the system. There are food inspectors working for local authorities who go into restaurants, cafes, catering kitchens and abattoirs making sure food is safe. Then there are food safety leads employed by businesses of all sizes, helping their employer maintain the best standards possible.

Health and Safety is another area overseen by EHPs. While the HSE works in the areas of agriculture, construction, oil rigs and large factories, it is EHPs who work with retailers, wholesale distribution and warehousing, hotel and catering premises, offices, and the consumer/leisure industries to ensure high standards are maintained.

Their aim is to protect workers and members of the public through the principles of sensible risk management and the enforcement of regulations to prevent accidents and workplace injuries. Some EHPs are also employed by businesses, developing and implementing internal policies to protect staff from harm. 

I haven’t even begun to scratch the service when it comes to describing the breadth of the environmental profession and the places EHPs can be found. Overseeing landlords in the private rented sector, import and and export at British ports, noise in the community, emergency planning – the list is endless.

The point I hope I am getting across is that environmental health touches everybody’s lives and without the small army of EHPs employed across the UK, your health and wellbeing would be that much worse off.

Despite its importance, the problem is that not a lot people know about environmental health and this is something that has to change.

This is where the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health comes in. We’re a membership body for EHPs and in addition to improving standards and equipping the next generation of EHPs, it is our job to support and promote the interests of the practice of environmental health, as well as acting as the voice of the profession and our members to Government, the wider public and the media.

To help achieve this, we are planning to deliver several campaigns in the coming months. We hope to highlight important issues that affect the public but also offer positive solutions which ultimately will help protect the health and wellbeing of everyone across the UK. 

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