Enforcement Officer (Environmental Health)

Environmental services departments within local councils have a range of responsibilities including housing, food safety, environmental protection, occupational health and safety and public health. Enforcement officers work alongside professionally qualified environmental health practitioners investigating offences relating to all areas of environmental legislation.

Work Environment
Enforcement officers spend some of their time in the office, but they spend a large proportion of their time making visits. They may have to visit unpleasant and potentially dangerous places. When necessary, they wear protective clothing. They may also spend time in court when prosecutions are being conducted.

Daily Activities
Enforcement officers may cover several aspects of the environmental health department's work or may work in highly specialised areas. Some for instance, have high level qualifications in acoustics or air pollution and are expert in that one field.  Enforcement officers receive and investigate complaints and make visits to decide whether the complaint is justified. They might make some visits in response to a report from a technician who has made a routine inspection and referred a problem to them. Many visits are made in response to complaints made by local residents.  Visits may involve investigating a wide range of issues including dog fouling, fly tipping, noisy neighbours, abandoned vehicles, litter, graffiti, illegal street trading or sites unlawfully occupied by travellers.

When an enforcement officer has examined the situation, they then have to find out who is responsible for the problem. Sometimes this may be obvious; sometimes they undertake detective work. They might interview neighbours and members of the public to try to find out whose dog is responsible for fouling pavements or who has pasted up illegal posters for example. They then have to observe the offence being committed themselves rather than simply relying on somebody else's word.

Enforcement officers frequently have to liaise with colleagues in other council departments or with other agencies. In the case of an abandoned vehicle they might have to contact the police to establish the owner's identity. If land is being used for illegal dumping, they will contact the land registry department to find out who owns the land.

When they know who is responsible, enforcement officers first give a warning and ask the culprit to put the matter right. If this is ignored, they issue a legally enforceable order - and as a last resort recommend their senior manager to ask for a prosecution. If the council takes the offender to court, officers prepare the evidence for the council's legal department. They might also appear as expert witnesses.

Skills & Interests
Enforcement officers need to be:

  • persuasive, with excellent communication skills,
  • inquisitive with good attention to detail,
  • good report writers,
  • able to work well under pressure,
  • able to work well both in a team and on your own initiative,
  • able to demonstrate a good knowledge of technical issues and awareness of environmental legislation.

Entry Requirements
These vary considerably according to whether employing councils grade the work at technician or professional level. Some councils expect national or higher national level qualifications in food science, biological sciences, environmental science and other relevant subjects. Others ask for degrees. Often previous enforcement experience is useful.

Future Prospects & Opportunities
There may be opportunities to gain professional qualifications whilst working and move into the role of environmental health officer. There may also be scope to develop in enforcement within other areas of environmental services such as trading standards or planning.

Further Information & Services
Chartered Institute of Environmental Health www.ehcareers.org
Civil Enforcement Association www.civea.co.uk
Institute of Occupational Safety & Health www.iosh.co.uk
Royal Society for the Promotion of Health www.rsph.org

Careers Wales have produced a Spotlight article on careers in food and farming: www.careerswales.com/en/spotlight-on-food-and-farming/  

You may find further information about this area of work through Careers Wales (www.careerswales.com/) or in your local library, careers office or school careers library.

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