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What They Do

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists Career Video

Insider Info

If you've ever had food poisoning from a restaurant, you understand that proper food handling is essential. Illness or even death can result when conditions are unsanitary or food is cooked improperly.

Health inspectors try to make sure people stay healthy and safe. They help ensure that places such as restaurants, barber shops, tattoo parlors and swimming pools are suitable for public use.

Inspectors are also called environmental health specialists, environmental health officers or sanitarians. They investigate and help to correct health hazards.

They ensure regulations are followed regarding sanitation, pollution control, the handling and storage of hazardous substances, and workplace safety.

"You get to work with industry, which is kind of cool," says Gordon Stewart. He's a health inspector.

"You're educating the public on public health matters," he adds. "You work in a diverse field -- basically you're in a restaurant one day and you may be doing a communicative disease investigation the next day... And you get to work with people."

If necessary, health inspectors can make enforcement orders to suspend or revoke a license or permit. That's the iron fist inside their sanitary glove.

Here are some of the things they do:

  • Investigate the cleanliness of public facilities and investigate outbreaks of diseases and poisonings resulting from spoiled food
  • Investigate spills of hazardous chemicals or products
  • Inspect workplaces to ensure that equipment, materials and production processes are safe
  • Make sure proper health and safety regulations and procedures are being followed

Corporate and occupational health departments, public health agencies, solid and hazardous waste management, general sanitation engineering and pollution control are all areas that need the services of inspectors.

Jasmina Egeler says people skills are essential. She's an environmental health officer.

"You have to be able to sell public health concepts and personal hygiene and whatever," says Egeler. "You have to sell that. A lot of times they're not interested in buying, to be completely honest, so the stronger your skills are in that area I think the more successful you will be.

"Secondly, and equally important I think, is just to be a confident person, because I think the job can be fairly stressful and negative in some ways, especially if you're taking an enforcement action against somebody's permit or license," Egeler adds. "You have to be able to kind of distance yourself from that and not attach yourself on a personal level to some of the things you have to do, because obviously it's for the greater good and for public health protection."

The nature of the work makes it difficult for individuals who are physically impaired. It involves considerable fieldwork -- some inspectors travel frequently -- and sometimes unpleasant, dangerous and stressful working conditions.

At a Glance

Make sure things are clean and sanitary

  • Some inspectors travel frequently
  • Inspectors may work at public health agencies, or at many other places
  • In most states, you'll need to be licensed


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