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Wide Bay, Australia near Fraser Island

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Environmental Health Australia

A bit of history!

The English sanitary reform movement initiated and driven by Chadwick and Simon in the mid to late Nineteenth Century was adopted subsequently by the various colonies in Australia. The evolution of these colonies into six independent states meant that the origins of Environmental Health Australia (EHA) come from the establishment of associations within each of the states. One of the earliest of these was the Inspectors of Nuisances Association of the County of Cumberland in NSW which was established in 1892. New South Wales (NSW) established the first Health Inspectors Association and by the end of the 1920s each state had established a similar association based on that of NSW. The first moves to establish a national body responsible for professional matters, rather than industrial matters, originated with the establishment of the Institution of Health Surveyors in 1936. In 1961 the Australian Institute of Health Surveyors (AIHS) was founded and over the next few years each state established a division of the AIHS. The first national conference was held in Brisbane in 1973. (Tyler 1992).

In 1986 the AIHS became a foundation member of the International Federation of Environmental Health (IFEH) and in 1988 AIHS was the host member for the Inaugural World Congress of Environmental Health in Sydney which was organised by the NSW Division. Over 1,288 delegates from 23 countries attended the week long Congress.

One effect of hosting the Inaugural World Congress and hearing about various local and global environmental health issues, perspectives and practices was a review of the fundamental purpose of AIHS in relation to the broader arena of environmental health. The result was a change in name from AIHS to the Australian Institute of Environmental Health (AIEH) in 1989 at which time members began referring to themselves as Environmental Health Officers (EHOs).

Membership and Organisation

There are approximately 1300 members of EHA (and growing!) the majority being environmental health practitioners, or environmental health officers (EHOs), employed in local government. The current structure of EHA consists of a Board of Directors which has the responsibility for the governance and operations of EHA under the Australian corporate legislation. There are six branches corresponding to state and territory boundaries and these are led by a Branch President. Operationally EHA employs six staff consisting of the Chief Executive Officer and five Executive Officers who provide support to a nominated branch. There are regional groups and special interest groups in the branches. SIGs are usually formed around particular areas of interest, such as, emergency management.

Current state of play

In May this year, twenty years after the Inaugural World Congress, the AIEH had the privilege of conducting the 10th World Congress in Environmental Health in Brisbane, Queensland. Over 600 delegates from more than fifty countries attended the six day Congress. Leading up to the Congress, the AIEH Board had been engaged in thinking about how the organisation could continue to remain relevant to its members, government and the Australian community. It was also considering how it could fulfill its mission and objectives under the Constitution:

The Mission and objects of the Institute are to contribute to the improvement in environmental health standards in Australia by:

  • Developing and advancing the practices and policies of the environmental health profession;

  • Co-ordinating and representing the views, concerns, and interests of members;

  • Disseminating knowledge on environmental health to individuals, the community, governments and other organisations;

     Promoting excellence in environmental health practice; and

  • Advocating the objects and policies of the Institute including the developing of membership of the Institute.

It was acknowledged that the environmental health and the environmental health profession encompasses broad areas of effort and, therefore, requires a range of professionals and practitioners with various disciplines, including EHOs, to achieve the mission of improved environmental health standards. In recognition of this the AIEH changed its name to Environmental Health Australia (EHA) at the Congress. Importantly, the then IFEH President, Colm Smyth, launched the EHA Continuing Professional Development Policy and the Certified Environmental Health Practitioner (CEHP) Scheme. EHA is committed to raising the profile of the environmental health practitioner and thus, environmental health, through ensuring members have the opportunities to demonstrate their professionalism to their peers, employers and the community. The introduction of the CEHP Scheme forms the last of a three prong professional development strategy with the other strategies being the publication of the Environmental Health Journal, an international peer reviewed journal, and the university environmental health officer course accreditation.

The future

There are severe EHO workforce shortages across Australia and this is a critical issue for EHA. EHA has already undertaken a number of initiatives to begin addressing the issue including the conduct of a National Local Government Environmental Health Officer Workforce Summit in 2007 and research into the workforce development strategies nationally and internationally (mainly the UK). Further research is being undertaken in the area of local government environmental health roles and responsibilities, employment, and organisational risk.

The two goals of EHA is to develop its capacity to ensure the quality of the Australian environmental health practitioner workforce to meet the environmental health challenges of the future, and to advocate for improved environmental health standards. One strategy that is quite apparent is the need to actively network with our IFEH colleagues to learn from their experiences and share our experiences.

Environmental Health Australia

IFEH World Congress 2008

In May 2008, Environmental Health Australia hosted the 10th IFEH World Congress on Environmental Health.