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A public health inspector's job is to protect people from possible threats to their health posed by hazardous conditions in publicly accessible areas. These inspectors also watch various private and government operations that may affect areas populated by the public, such as mass transit. Her focus of protection generally includes the environment, workers, buildings and the general public. A person with this job is sometimes called an occupational safety specialist or environmental health specialist.
An inspector may discover health concerns as part of her routine inspection of public buildings or be directed to a suspected source of a health threat by a concerned company or individual. The scope of what she may be required to investigate is comprehensive, as it encompasses all buildings and sites that may pose health threats. The building or site may be privately owned or operated, but still be dangerous to the public if it produces odors, smells or pollutants that are considered hazardous.
Common areas of concern to the inspector include dormant swimming pools, stagnant ponds, restaurants and manufacturing or production facilities. Pools and ponds are common breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes and other pests. Restaurants may have inadequate air purification or ventilation systems that spew offensive odors into the air. Manufacturing plants are sometimes involved in operations that create pollution in the air or contaminate water sources. Sewage and garbage disposal habits are common concerns in a variety of environments.
If a public health inspector discovers an area of concern, she is generally expected to advise the offender of the infraction. Her knowledge of permits, codes and regulations for individual businesses and industries is normally required to adequately explain offenses and offer corrective solutions. She is customarily required to issue a formal citation if the offender does not correct the violation in a timely manner.
A successful public health inspector typically has great communication skills. Her ability to tactfully approach code violators and recommend solutions is an important part of her job. She is frequently required to issue citations and her skills in being firm yet empathetic in her delivery generally yield the desired compliance.
Being organized and detail-oriented are also traditionally vital to her success. A public health inspector is typically required to follow up on citations and document her progress in resolving issues. Following protocol in filing paperwork is particularly important if an offender challenges the charges of endangering the public’s health.
Most public health inspector positions require a bachelor’s degree in public or occupational health, biology or environmental sciences. Some jobs may call for a master’s degree in a similar area of concentration. Certifications may be needed in certain areas or if an inspector wishes to specialize in a particular area of public health investigation and enforcement.