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Environmental/​Public Health Officer

Āpiha Hauora Taiao/​Pāpori

Alternative titles for this job

Environmental/public health officers investigate, monitor, assess and advise on food and alcohol safety, disease prevention, disease outbreaks, and environmental hazards such as pollution.

Pay

Graduate environmental/public health officers usually earn

$48K-$70K per year

Experienced environmental/public health officers usually earn

$55K-$85K per year

Source: DHBs/PSA 'Allied, Public Health and Technical MECA', 2017, and Wellington City Council, 2018.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as an environmental/public health officer are average due to stable worker numbers and low turnover.

Pay

Pay for environmental/public health officers varies depending on experience and whether they work for a city council or district health board.

  • Graduate environmental/public health officers usually earn between $48,000 and $70,000 a year.
  • Environmental/public health officers with one to five years' experience usually earn between $55,000 and $75,000.
  • Environmental/public health officers with more than five years' experience, or team leaders and managers can earn up to $85,000.

Source: District Health Boards/PSA, 'Allied, Public Health and Technical Multi-Employer Collective Agreement', 2017; and Wellington City Council, 2018.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Environmental/public health officers may do some or all of the following:

  • monitor and advise on food safety in food outlets, farms, shops, factories and schools
  • assess health risks and suggest actions to take
  • investigate infectious diseases, such as salmonella, and advise people on how to prevent their spread
  • advise on health requirements for building consents
  • investigate and advise on management of polluted land 
  • take samples from sites to test for environmental pollution
  • serve legal notices and provide evidence in court
  • work with the media to make people aware of public health issues
  • help develop health policies
  • advise and train on environmental health processes such as how to correctly take a fridge temperature
  • report on resource consent applications, liquor licences and Land Information Memorandum (LIM) applications.

Skills and knowledge

Environmental/public health officers need to have knowledge of:

  • relevant laws such as the Food Acts, the Health Act and the Resource Management Act 
  • environmental and health issues
  • practical applications of microbiology
  • food industry processes and technology
  • technical skills for taking water, noise, light and air samples
  • infectious diseases.

Working conditions

Environmental/public health officers:

  • usually work regular business hours
  • work in offices, but may spend more than half their time visiting places such as food outlets, homes, fields, farms, waterways, shops, early childhood centres and factories
  • may work in unpleasant conditions when inspecting unclean housing, cafes or shops, or investigating smells or pollution complaints.

What's the job really like?

Jack Heagney

Jack Heagney

Environmental Health Officer

Hospitality experience an asset for environmental health career

Making endless coffees and keeping customers happy has been a good lead into Jack Heagney's career as an environmental health officer. Especially now when it comes time to inspect cafes and restaurants and suggest healthy food processes.

"Lots of hospitality experience and front-of-house helped. I learned people skills and I operated food control plans. I've seen things from the other side, so that knowledge is great. You need to understand food."

Building relationships key

Jack says that sometimes the public are confused by what they are required to do by law, so building relationships and gaining trust is important.

"You need to be quite outgoing – you're always meeting new people. One nightclub owner couldn't believe we were so nice and described us as fun people."

Helping people a high point of the job

Part of Jack's role is to investigate hoarders. He assesses the health of the home and liaises with other agencies to get help with removing rubbish or assessing the health of the homeowner. This can be a big relief for the homeowners.

"It's really quite fun to think you are genuinely helping people and that they are pleased with your help."

Exciting to know the city secrets

Like many science-based careers, you don't spend too much time in the office, says Jack.

"Getting out of the office is great. I spend most days out in the city meeting customers and assessing food processes in places like cafes and daycares. 

"One of the exciting things about the job is you always know what's going on in the city, such as a new restaurant opening, well before anyone else. It's fun to have inside knowledge of the city."

Entry requirements

To become an environmental/public health officer, you need to have one of the following:

  • Bachelor of Health Science (Environmental Health) from Massey University
  • Bachelor of Science (Environmental Sciences) or (Food Safety) or (Health Protection) from Auckland University of Technology (AUT)
  • Graduate Diploma in Environmental Health from Massey University
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Public Health from Massey University.

You also need a current driver's licence.

Secondary education

A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include biology, chemistry, health education, maths and physics.

Personal requirements

Environmental/public health officers need to be:

  • precise, with an eye for detail
  • analytical and able to make quick judgements
  • able to build relationships quickly
  • able to remain calm under pressure
  • able to explain information clearly
  • diplomatic and friendly
  • persuasive and firm
  • able to relate well to people from a range of cultures and backgrounds.

You need to be quite assertive at times as you're meeting people who can be resistant to change


Photo: Jack Heagney

Jack Heagney

Environmental Health Officer

Useful experience

Useful experience for environmental/public health officers includes:

  • work in the health, food or hospitality industries
  • customer service experience
  • experience in laboratory or science work.

Find out more about training

Ministry of Health
(04) 496 2000 - info@health.govt.nz - www.health.govt.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Limited vacancies for environmental/public health officers

Opportunities for environmental/public health officers are average because:

  • people tend to stay in the role for a long time, limiting vacancies
  • the occupation is relatively small, and the number of people in the job has stayed steady.

According to Stats NZ, about 430 environmental/public health officers work in New Zealand.

Chances of finding work are best in the main city centres of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Types of employers varied

Sixty percent of environmental/public health officers work for local and regional councils.

They may also work for:

  • district health boards in public health units (as health protection officers)
  • private companies 
  • the New Zealand Defence Force
  • government organisations such as the Ministry for Primary Industries
  • airports.

Sources

  • Gordillo, L, environmental health officer, Wellington City Council, careers.govt.nz interview, 28 May 2018.
  • Heagney, J, environmental health officer, Wellington City Council, careers.govt.nz interview, 28 May 2018.
  • Ministry of Health, 'Health Workforce New Zealand: Annual Report to the Minister of Health – 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017', 2018, (www.health.govt.nz).
  • Ministry of Health, 'Public Health Workforce Development Plan 2007-2016', accessed 2018, (www.health.govt.nz).
  • Ministry of Health website, accessed May 2018, (www.health.govt.nz)
  • New Zealand Institute of Environmental Health website, accessed May 2018, (www.nzieh.org.nz).
  • Regional Public Health representative, careers.govt.nz interview, May 2018.
  • Silver, N, environmental health manager, Auckland Regional Public Health Service, careers.govt.nz interview, May 2018.
  • Stats NZ, '2013 Census Data', accessed 2018.
  • Taylor, A, public health operations team leader, Wellington City Council, careers.govt.nz interview, 28 May 2018.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Environmental/public health officers may progress into management or policy analyst roles.

Environmental/public health officers may specialise in:

  • food safety
  • alcohol licensing
  • water and soil safety
  • infectious diseases.

Environmental/public health officers can specialise in the roles of:

Environmental Health Officer
Environmental health officers work for city and regional councils, the Defence Force, the Government and private agencies. They usually focus on health issues involving food and alcohol safety, hoarding, noise, land and air pollution, and health requirements for building consents.
Health Protection Officer
Health protection officers usually work for district health boards in public health units. They usually focus on disease control and disease prevention.
Jack Heagney checks a coffee machine inside a new cafe

Environmental health officers help places, such as cafes, meet food safety requirements

Last updated 24 June 2020