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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."

Health protection officer video

Amokura finds out what it's like to be a health protection officer – 6.49 mins. (Video courtesy of Ministry of Health)

Amokura: Kia ora, I’m 16 years old, I go to Western Springs College and I’m here to learn more about health protection officers.

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 Amokura 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.

Amokura: Sweet.

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 sources 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 percent 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.

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 28 August 2018