Environmental Health Officer
Āpiha Hauora Taiao
This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Environmental health officers investigate, monitor, and assess the effects of environmental hazards, such as pollution, unsafe food and infectious diseases on people's health and well being. They also ensure registered premises comply with regulations and grant licenses to them.
Environmental health officers usually earn
$47K-$88K per year
Source: New Zealand Institute of Environmental Health.
Pay for environmental health officers varies depending on experience.
- New graduates starting as environmental health officers usually earn about $47,000 to $60,000 a year.
- Environmental health officers with three to five years' experience usually earn about $66,000 to $80,000.
- Very experienced environmental health officers or those working in managerial roles can earn $88,000 or more.
Source: New Zealand Institute of Environmental Health.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Environmental health officers may do some or all of the following:
- investigate infectious diseases, such as salmonella, and advise people how to prevent their spread
- monitor food safety in food premises
- advise on the health requirements on building consents
- investigate and advise on management of contaminated land
- take samples from sites to test for environmental pollution
- take legal action against serious breaches of environment-related laws and regulations
- teach people about public health
- work with the media to educate the population about public health matters
- work on policy development at regional and local levels
- report on resource consent applications, liquor licences and Land Information Memorandum (LIM) applications.
Skills and knowledge
Environmental health officers need to have:
- knowledge of environmental and health issues, and related regulations and standards
- knowledge of Acts of Parliament that relate to public health, such as the Resource Management Act, the Food Act and the Health Act
- knowledge of practical applications of microbiology
- knowledge of food industry processes and technology
- technical skills for taking water samples, and using noise and light-measuring equipment
- research and analytical skills for infectious disease investigations and complex nuisance complaints.
Environmental health officers:
- usually work regular business hours
- work in offices, but may spend more than half their time in the field, carrying out inspections of food premises, hairdressers, factories, swimming pools, etc
- may work in unpleasant conditions when inspecting insanitary housing or food premises, or investigating odor or pollution complaints.
What's the job really like?
Andrew Taylor - Environmental Health Officer
"Hey Michael, how're you doing?" asks environmental health officer Andrew Taylor as he strides into the restaurant he is about to inspect. Michael smiles, "I'm just about to have my breakfast. Want some?"
Politely declining the offer, Andrew follows Michael into the kitchen. He listens carefully as Michael describes how things are going with food safety procedures put in place last month. Andrew then suggests some improvements the restaurant can make, ensuring the manager understands exactly what is required.
As Andrew has been covering restaurants and cafes in a small area of Wellington city for several years, he's got to know his clients well. "It's crucial that you tap into this connection – this alone will make them want to tell you about the way they're doing their business.
"It's only then that you get a better idea about how they can make improvements from a food safety point of view. If I ask them to spend $10,000 to $15,000 to change their ventilation system, for example, they will be more likely to understand why.
"Through these inspections, I've met some fantastic people with amazing stories that I might not otherwise have met."
Amokura finds out what it's like to be a health protection officer - 6.49 mins. (Video courtesy of Ministry of Health).
Clinton: Helping to make New Zealand a safer place to be is health protection officer Cameron Ormsby.
Cameron: Kia ora Amokura, my name is Cameron and I’m going to be taking you around for the day.
Clinton: Part of a health protection officer's job includes monitoring and removing potentially dangerous exotic mosquitoes from around New Zealand’s ports and today Cameron has taken Amorkura to Ports of Auckland.
Cameron: OK Amokura, this looks like a good spot. We’re looking for somewhere dark, where lots of mozzies can hide and rest. So this looks like a perfect spot so what we’re going to do now is we’re going to set up our adult trap and we’re going to try and catch some mosquitoes, so here we go.
Cameron: What I like about my job is that it’s a great mixture of being out in the field and also back in the office. So it’s that real application of science in a work sense. You finish the day and you look at what you’ve done and you’ve achieved your goal of protecting the health of a large number of people.
Cameron: Basically, red to positive, black to negative.
Cameron: This mosquito trap has a jar of liquid with a little wick on the end, and it’s what we call Octanol – it’s chemical formulation, and it’s the same as what we call bad cow's breath, so basically the mosquitoes smell bad cow's breath, get really interested, and they come up to here and they get sucked down by the fan and into the trap.
Clinton: A trap set up earlier has captured some suspect mosquitoes.
Cameron: Oh yeah there’s a couple, excellent. We have to chuck them in our vial for sending to the lab.
Clinton: But before they head back to the lab it’s off to carry out some inspections on a farm. Here they must ensure that all pest control chemicals such as the deadly cyanide are stored away safely, out of harm's way.
Stu: What we’ve got in here is actually quite dangerous. There’s a lot of toxins that can be stored in here at any one time, so it’s really good to get some feedback on actually how to look after it.
Cameron: The first thing we’re going to look at with Stu is how he is storing his goods, and how he has the appropriate storage for his goods. So you can clearly see that Stu has got his poisons stored here, and he’s got clear signage saying it’s a toxic substance, it’s a Class 6, and that’s brilliant, and he’s got it on some other areas where he’s storing his cyanide, so Stu, that’s brilliant.
Clinton: Having ensured there is clear signage to alert the public, Cameron checks that all poisons are safely locked away, there is good ventilation in the container and the correct paperwork is displayed. Out in the field they check that the bait station is also set up correctly.
Cameron: So we’re looking primarily at how he’s put the bait in a secluded spot, and the public health risk is severely mitigated.
Clinton: With no risk to the public it's time to head out and ensure future baiting plans are safe for both native species and people.
Farmer: I’d like to permanently bait this area of bush down below us here. It’s got a good set of conservation values – it’s got frogs and kauri snails.
Cameron: The people skills that you really need as a health protection officer are being able to problem-solve, that’s a key one, but also being able to relate to other people because often you’re having to work with other groups or organisations to solve a common problem and it’s using your skills of persuasion and people skills to really drive home the message of public health and get action.
Clinton: Health protection officers also investigate environmental hazards that may contaminate food sources. Heading out to an oyster farm Amo and Cameron are looking to spot any pollution sources running from the land into the oyster growing area.
Cameron: Out here we’re looking at a number of properties which border the river and also a lot of farmland so we’re looking at areas where there may be things like failing septic tanks where I guess pollution might come into the river, so that’s what we’re checking today. Amo, a good tool in public health is being able to map where pollution sources are. So if I give you this GPS tracker and you input the co-ordinates of these pollution sources so that we can look at them on a map, that would be great.
Clinton: Farm animals are a potential source of pollution to nearby waterways and Amo enters the GPS co-ordinates ensuring they can pinpoint the exact location on a map.
Cameron: It’s not legal to discharge pollution directly into a water body like this. So what we’re really trying to do as public health staff is we’re really trying to knuckle down on pollution source before they become a problem, and it’s great for New Zealand industry, and it’s great for the farmer in particular.
Cameron: We’ll take these back to the lab and we’ll see what the results are like.
Clinton: A big part of the job takes place back at the office, analysing results from out in the field.
Cameron: What we’re going to do Amo is we’re just going to look at these shellfish results. One thing that’s really exciting about a health protection job is you come into work and you’re not 100% sure what you’re going to end up doing that day. Things change from time to time. For example, you come in on a Monday and you’re running off to a big swine flu event, and the next day there will be a radiation event where someone will crash a truck carrying a radioactive substance, so no day is going to be the same.
Cameron: The waters are really good and the oysters are really good to eat so it should be a good harvest.
Clinton: With the oysters given the all clear for public consumption, Amo and Cameron take a closer look at the day's earlier catch.
Amokura: So how do you know if it is a dangerous mosquito?
Cameron: Well different aspects of mosquitoes are unique to each individual mosquito, so we’re looking at things like black or white stripes on the legs, or on the proboscis, and also I guess how its abdomen is shaped and how its wings are shaped, and what you’ll see there is a bit of black and white striping on it. It tells me initially it is a species native to New Zealand, but we’ll still send it to the lab for a proper ID.
Clinton: So how did our student go?
Cameron: I thought he went really well, he’s got a real appreciation of public health and the broader concepts of health. He’s also got that real scientist eye – I saw a gleam as he was looking down the microscope so I’ve got big hopes for him.
Amokura: I really enjoyed the job and I didn’t even know anything about health protection officers and I really enjoyed going out on the oyster barges.
Clinton: To become a health protection officer you need to have a Bachelor of Applied Science degree, which takes three years to complete. You can study for these qualifications at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) or Massey University. Alternatively you can hold a Graduate Diploma in Environmental Health in addition to a Bachelor's degree in a related field. Good subjects to study at school include English, maths, chemistry and biology.
To become an environmental health officer, you need to have one of the following:
- Bachelor of Health Science (Human Health) from Massey University
- Bachelor of Applied Science (majoring in Health Protection and Environmental Health) from Auckland University of Technology (AUT)
- Graduate Diploma in Environmental Health (in addition to a relevant Bachelor's degree) from Massey University.
You will also need a current driver's licence to get a job as an environmental health officer.
- Massey University website - information about the Bachelor of Health Science
- AUT website - information about the Bachelor of Applied Science
- Massey University website - information about the Graduate Diploma in Environmental Health
- Public Health Workforce website - information about qualifications for health protection officers
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include English, maths, chemistry, biology and science.
Environmental health officers need to be:
- precise, with an eye for detail
- diplomatic and friendly
- persuasive and firm
- able to relate well to people from different cultures, lifestyles and age groups.
Useful experience for environmental health officers includes:
- work in the health, food or hospitality industries
- experience in laboratory or science work.
Find out more about training
- NZ Institute of Environmental Health
- firstname.lastname@example.org - www.nzieh.org.nz
- Public Helath Workforce
Check out related courses
What are the chances of getting a job?
Opportunities for new graduates better in main cities
Opportunities for newly qualified environmental health officers are average if they are willing to move to the main centres where there are more jobs. Vacancies outside the major cities come up less frequently because people tend to stay in the role for a long time.
Types of employers varied
The major employers for environmental health officers are:
- local councils
- district health boards (employed as health protection officers)
- private companies employing food safety auditors on contracts.
Environmental health officers can also work for:
- government organisations such as the Ministry for Primary Industries
- the New Zealand Army and Air Force (attached to the medical units)
- airports monitoring their environmental impacts, such as noise levels.
- Bell, S, president, New Zealand Institute of Environmental Health, Careers New Zealand interview, January 2015.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2013.
Progression and specialisations
Environmental health officers can progress by moving into a management role.
They may also specialise in more technical roles, such as food safety, noise or environmental management.
Last updated 2 June 2017