July 17, 2023

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Safety through the lens of environmental health

Louise Hosking, now Executive Director at CIEH, says a strong collaboration between the health and safety and environmental health sectors could create safer, cleaner and healthier environments for the benefit of all.

By the time this piece is published I will have been with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) as their Executive Director of Environmental Health for two months. My career, began as an Environmental Health Officer, so it seems I have come full circle.

The newly created role is an exciting opportunity to not only raise awareness and visibility for the environmental health profession but also to continue work across social sustainability aimed at improving health outcomes, equity, diversity of thought and inclusion not only at work but also within our communities locally, nationally and globally. I aim to link grassroots work in local communities into national initiatives, organisational conscience and a range of stakeholders globally. Our vision is simple – to create safer, cleaner and healthier environments for the benefit of all.

CIEH was established in 1883 and approximately half our members are Environmental Health Officers working within UK local authorities, and, like those in the OSH profession our members are passionate, purpose-driven individuals. They also work in organisations, in the third sectors and academia.

Five pillars

There are five core pillars of environmental health:

The most vulnerable in our society are still living in unsafe and unhealthy housing conditions exacerbating social divide. Two-year-old Awaab Ishak died from a respiratory condition caused by extensive mould. Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) work to ensure that standards are maintained and that action is taken if they are not.

Environmental protection
A key role of EHPs is to protect us and our environment from harm. We are campaigning to improve domestic energy efficiency with the aim of reducing emissions to meet WHO air quality targets. Ella Kissi-Debrah died aged nine and was the first person in the world to have air pollution cited as cause of death.

Food safety
Campaigning to enable consumers to make informed choices about the food they eat and protecting food standards at borders.

Public health
EHPs are at the heart of our communities managing risks associated with disease and health across our communities, partnering with a range of stakeholders. Viewed across the pillars of environmental health mental health becomes a public health issue.

Health and safety
We are working with partner organisations to continue to protect the health and safety of workers by protecting and enhancing our legislative framework and ensuring adequate resources.

CIEH aims to bring the five pillars of environmental health together and truly promote all aspects of environmental health for public benefit. I believe that health and safety professionals have a key role to play in this initiative.

True leadership

Over the last six I have been very forward in championing how health and safety can be used within organisations to create value by putting people and their health first – something that was very evident during the pandemic. We all understand the importance of a positive culture and creating high-performing teams which harness different perspectives to help build creative work environments. Here, trust, support and psychological health and safety is a foundation. I always saw this as a facilitative role to build the infrastructure to allow others to determine priorities.

Technical skills are important but transferable soft skills empower and enable others to be the change we all want to see – moving from transactional management into true leadership. From here, modern forward facing and proactive professionals will begin to transition into senior leadership roles who can speak the language of business and put people first. This work being undertaken is all about managing risk, something which those in health and safety truly understand – there is a lot we can learn from the evolution of the health and safety profession. 

Social Cohesion

CREDIT: Paul Skorupskas/Unsplash

We all need to keep moving forward and ethical organisations around the world understand their influence does not stop at the factory gates or territorial borders – these are global issues and many large organisations have mature frameworks for their safety and environmental approaches.

When we have healthy and safe communities, we create stronger social cohesion which promotes inclusion and social resilience. With this, communities are more equipped to withstand and recover from social, economic and environmental challenges. Health protection should not be the reserve of those who can afford it – when we support the most vulnerable in our wider societies, we raise the tide for everyone. By viewing the concepts we have been discussing in the health, safety and wellbeing community – through the structure offered by an environmental health perspective – we will evolve to create positive social, environmental and economic impacts beyond our workplaces.

Even those organisations that do not have Corporate Social Responsibility reporting requirements are being challenged by their customers and future leaders to be more socially aware of their broader health impacts. This really does put a capital ‘S’ into social sustainability and our members know how to navigate this.

People first

In my first week of lectures as an environmental health student, one of the tutors commented that steps taken to create decent housing standards, safe food, clean water, clean air, pollution-free environments, and safe, healthy places to work has saved more lives than any medical breakthrough. I have been listening to some truly incredible stories in respect of how communities can be lifted in this way. By getting back in touch with our ‘Why?’ we will establish strong partnerships which can potentially make a difference.

Large organisations have the ear of governments and want to look after their workforce and global supply chains to align their Environmental, Social and Governance strategies and consider UN Sustainability goals. We are amid a global skills shortage and the pillars of environmental health offer a new and evolved perspective. Together, as risk professionals, we can create a new way of looking at how we operate which can put people and their health first.

I’m looking forward to bringing the health and safety community along with me on this journey.

Discover more…

Click here for Louise’s blog on the leadership of the former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Aherd

Click here for a special SHP podcast with Louise as she handed over the IOSH President baton to Lawrence Webb

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