Occupational & Environmental Health

Working in Occupational or Environmental Health

Occupational and Environmental Health covers an extremely diverse field. It ranges from an officer advising on workplace safety to prevent worker injury and deaths, through to dealing with the effects of toxic spills or hazardous contamination to the community, such as the Hazelwood mine fire in Victoria.

As with many public health areas, it can be very people-focussed, or you can find yourself at a computer for much of the day, depending on your job role. Assessment and auditing roles may have a heavy field work component where you are dealing with people. Policy and research roles may involve more reading and writing, making them largely desk-based.

Many people migrate into this field, having previously worked in other relevant fields such as medicine, nursing, physiotherapy and allied health, all of which have skills and knowledge that can be easily applied to this discipline. Because of this, many jobs go to candidates with postgraduate qualifications. For those people keen to enter the workforce with an undergraduate degree in public health, field-based roles such as auditors with statutory authorities like Worksafe may be a good pathway.

Ideal attributes

  • Strong people skills, including negotiation and diplomacy: field work relies heavily on this, as do situations involving potential friction between employers, employees and advocates.
  • Analytical: critical appraisal of evidence is a must when assessing workplaces and the scientific literature.
  • Organised: good project management skills are essential.
  • Good communicator: you’ll need to be able to explain complex information in a way that non-scientific workers can understand.

Finding the right position for your experience

Postgraduate qualifications are highly regarded in this area, although undergraduate entrants may find roles in field-based jobs such as assessors and auditors with statutory authorities like WorkSafe.

Government is probably the largest employer in this space. The Department of Health has a use for experienced people in policy development, where producing evidence-based literature reviews is required. State-based Environmental Protection Authorities employ people for policy and to conduct field monitoring of high-risk sites such as chemical storage facilities. Some local councils employ environmental health officers.

Industry groups may also employ their own occupational and environmental health experts, to manage workplace safety compliance in large corporations, and monitor site contamination. NGOs may also hire people with this background, to operate overseas in an advocacy roles after environmental contamination, and unions may also employ people to advocate for workers.