Occupational health and safety hazards affecting environmental health officers

Author Identifier

Garry Dine


Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - ECU Access Only


Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Integrated)


School of Medical and Health Sciences

First Supervisor

Jacques Oosthuizen

Second Supervisor

Sue Reed

Third Supervisor

Edmore Masaka


Environmental health is the branch of public health concerned with the relationships between humans and their environment, and environmental health officers (EHOs) are entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring and mitigating factors in the environment that can affect peoples’ health and wellbeing. Their work includes investigating, sampling, measuring and assessing hazardous environmental agents in various environmental media and settings.This essential service can expose them to numerous physical, chemical, biological and psychosocial hazards. The multifaceted and diverse working environments of EHOs thus make them acritical professional group for understanding workplace hazards. Although almost every occupation entails potential exposure to hazards and risks of illnesses and injuries, little is known about how the trend and magnitude of workplace health and safety (WHS) affects EHOs.

This thesis investigates the occupational health and safety (OHS) hazards that affect EHOs in Australia, the United States and New Zealand—and the outcomes of this thesis will be used to inform potential OHS and WHS guidelines for managing the workplace hazards that EHOs face. This thesis’s mixed methods research adopted a methodological triangulation design, which allowed the researcher to use different methods to approach the intended research topic.Additionally, a single paradigm was adopted to inform the entirety of the mixed methods study: the realistperspective. The realist perspective does not limit the range of topics to be researchedor the methods that can legitimately be used to conduct research. In the case of this thesis, the realist perspective involved the researcher understanding the underlying factors and mechanisms that influenced WHS among EHOs in terms of their immediate work environments, individual perception and behaviour. Further, these factors were explored in the context of EHOs’ OHS management systems.

Similarities can be observed in the environmental health practices and workplace hazards that affect EHOs in the three chosen countries. EHOs in all three countries reported that work-related psychological stress, musculoskeletal demands, exposure to chemical and biological agents, driving incidents and workplace violence were the major OHS hazards. EHOs were also dissatisfied with their current employers’ approach to OHS management, as well as the lack of commitment and support in implementing safe work practices. Further, strong elements of negative OHS culture can also be observed in the environmental health workforce, and they iii influence OHS implementation, practices and compliance. These include a negative attitude towards safe work practices, poor OHS leadership, a lack of resources and OHS training, poor risk awareness and cognitive bias.

Although this research has limitations, significant evidence has suggested serious and more complex OHS issues within the broader environmental health profession. The product of this research is a novel profile of OHS issues that affect EHO workforces in Australia, the United States and New Zealand, which can be used to inform preventive actions.Additionally, this thesis’s findings provide a catalyst for further research into the WHS of EHOs.

NB: OHS and WHS both describe the health and safety of individuals in a workplace setting. They share the same meaning and are used interchangeably throughout this thesis.



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