What is "Environmental Health"?
"Environmental Health" is defined as "Those aspects of human health determined by physical, chemical, biological and social factors in the environment". The strategy states further that "Environmental Health practice covers the assessment, correction, control and prevention of environmental factors that can adversely affect health, as well as the enhancement of those aspects of the environment that can improve human health" (enHealth Council).
What Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) do?
EHOs carry out roles related to the enforcement of various parts of the Public Health Act 2010, Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008, Smoke Free Environment Act 2000 and Regulations. EHOs are also responsible for a number of non-statutory areas involving collaborative work with other local and state government authorities. Details of these roles are outlined below.
Public Health Act 2010 and Regulations
Public Health Risks Generally
EHOs investigate matters which constitute actual or potential health risks and which may or may not be successfully resolved by a local authority (eg. local Council EHOs) or fall outside the ambit of other government departments (eg. Department of Fair Trading, WorkCover Authority). These can vary from general hygiene risks to risks of exposure to specific hazardous chemicals or infectious disease.
Public & Private (Commercial) Water Supplies
EHOs are involved in drinking water quality monitoring programs to ensure the availability and safe supply of water for drinking, food preparation and personal hygiene. The Chief Health Officer may issue a boil water alert as a precaution in response to an event where the quality of drinking water is of concern. Information on maintaining safe water supplies is available at:http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/water/Pages/drinking-water.aspx
Public Swimming Pools
EHOs may inspect public swimming and spa pools for compliance with http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/publicpools/Documents/public-health-reg-2012-schedule_1.pdf. This may involve checking pool disinfection systems, surrounds, toilets, change rooms and plant rooms as well as chemical and microbiological testing of pool or spa water. Public pools and spas may be closed if reasonable grounds exist to suspect a risk to public health.
Information on the public health risk associated with public swimming and spa pools is available at:
EHOs monitor and provide advice regarding the installation, operation and maintenance of water cooling systems to prevent or inhibit the growth of micro-organisms that cause Legionnaires' Disease. Information on Legionella and Legionnaires’ Disease is available at:http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/legionellacontrol/Pages/default.aspx
(The term "skin penetration" relates to specific practices carried out during electrolysis, waxing, tattooing, ear and body piercing, blood glucose and cholesterol testing, beauty therapy, colonic lavage and any beauty treatment which involves the deliberate penetration or removal of the skin. Information can be found at NSW Health's Skin Penetration Page.
EHOs may investigate complaints of inadequate infection control practice by a skin penetration operator and provide educational programs for local Council EHOs and/or workers in this field.
EHOs may investigate sources of exposure of cases with arboviral infections (eg. Ross River Fever), cryptosporidiosis, lead poisoning and Legionella infections. Investigations hold a higher priority if more than one case (a "cluster") of the same disease is diagnosed around the same time or if a disease is diagnosed in particular at-risk group (eg. lead poisoning in a child). Sampling of potential sources of infection (eg. water in an air conditioning system, paint from a building) may form part of investigations.
EHOs may instigate action to prevent further spread of diseases, such as requiring the closure of public swimming pools, or requiring the owner/operators to take immediate disinfection measures. Media releases can also be used to educate the public about identified public health risks.
An exhumation is the removal of human remains from a grave or crypt for the purpose of relocation to another burial site. This requires approval by delegation from the Director-General of Health. EHOs attend the procedure to ensure that the correct remains are exhumed and other conditions are observed to protect the health of the public.
Transportation Overseas of Bodies of Deceased Persons
Funeral directors requesting that the remains of a deceased person be transported overseas require authorisation from EHOs that these bodies are free from diseases that may pose a risk to public health.
Mortuaries and Crematories
EHOs maintain a register of Mortuaries and Crematories and may inspect premises, registers or other records and take copies. EHOs monitor and provide advice to ensure that bodies of deceased persons are stored properly and under hygienic conditions. EHOs also ensure that details are recorded appropriately and that waste is handled and disposed of in a satisfactory manner. A crematory can be closed where Public Health Regulations are not being met.
Information on funeral industry regulations and requirements are available at: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/dotd/Pages/default.aspx
Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008 and Regulations
The sale of single cigarettes, cigarettes in packets of less then 20,unpackaged tobacco, or tobacco products without appropriate health warnings is prohibited to any person regardless of the customer’s age. Retailers education programs are regularly provided to ensure retailers are aware of their responsibilities in regard to the sale of tobacco products.
A person who sells tobacco products to a person who is under the age of 18 years may be fined up to $55,000. It is also illegal to sell non tobacco smoking products including herbal cigarettes. All tobacco retailers have a duty of care to ensure that they only sell tobacco products to persons 18 years of age or older. Retail outlets are randomly surveyed and prosecutions have been made against those found to sell tobacco products to people under the age of 18. Retailers must ensure that the purchaser produces a proof of age document if necessary, and that their sales staff are appropriately trained regarding these obligations.
The display of tobacco products, non tobacco products and smoking accessories is being phased out in retail outlets including specialist tobacconists and tobacco vending machines. Environmental Health Officers actively monitor retailers for breaches under the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008.
General information on NSW Health and tobacco control is available at: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/tobacco/pages/default.aspx
Smoke–free Environment Act 2000 and Regulations
The Smoke-Free Environment Act 2000 requires enclosed public places in NSW to be smoke-free. EHOs monitor and assess compliance as required to determine what is an 'enclosed public place', and when a covered outside area is considered to be substantially enclosed for the purposes of the Smoke-free Environment Act 2000.
Information on Smoke Free Environment legislation is available at: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/tobacco/Pages/smokefree-legislation.aspx
Smoke-free Outdoor Areas Frequently Asked Questions
EHOs' Non-Legislative Roles
EHOs review and comment on Environmental and Health Impact Assessments and Statements (EIAs, HIAs and EISs), Local Environmental Plans (LEPs), Development Control Plans (DCPs), and planning guidelines with respect to potential public health risks associated with the proposal and the principles of Ecological Sustainable Development (ESD). The National Framework for Environmental and Health Impact Assessment (NH&MRC, 1994) emphasises the importance of cross-sector collaboration in development and assessment of planning proposals. This is in recognition of the fact that environments have potential social, psychological, economic and ecological as well as physical impacts on human health. The health of the community is also seen as a basic requirement for ESD (NH&MRC 1994).
Water Recycling Schemes
NSW Health recommends the use of the Australian Guidelines for Water Recycling: Managing Health and Environmental Risk 2006 for the development of recycled water schemes. EHOs can assist local Councils in assessing potential health risks from recycled water schemes and thus facilitate Councils' approval process for water recycling schemes under the Local Government Act (Approvals) Regulation.
Waste Management in Health Care Facilities
EHOs disseminate NSW Health’s "Waste Management Guidelines for Health Care Facilities", assist public health care facilities to implement them and provide advice on interpretation of the guidelines.
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