As part of our campaign asking the people of Wales ‘How healthy is your Town’ we’ve been taking an inside look at the role Environmental Health Officers play in ensuring our towns, cities and villages are clean and safe to live in. Over the past two months we followed Environmental health graduates Caryl and Stephen as they train towards becoming fully qualified Practitioners.
In part 3 Caryl shares with us the importance of education and public feedback play in improving awareness and developing environmental health services
Responding to requests for services from the public can sometimes be challenging for an Environmental Health Practitioner (EHP) because many of our interactions with people are enforcement based in Health and Safety, Housing, Environmental Pollution control or Food safety sector.
Although we interact daily with the public, we do not regularly get feedback, except when it is sought through public consultations or community interventions.
This blog will focus on the importance of public feedback and how it is demonstrated within public health promotions.
One exercise I have been involved in which sought to gather public feedback was a hand washing initiative held at Greenmeadow Community Farm in November 2013. The Project was designed to help children understand the importance of hand washing. A pair of Ultraviolet (UV) light boxes was used for each participating child to inspect their hands under UV light.
Each child patted a toy dog which had been covered in dust detectable only under UV light, the dust representing “germs”. Following the lead of an EHP Student, the child would place their hands under the UV box to see where the “germs” collected on their hands.
The EHP student who accompanied the child then demonstrated effective hand washing technique directing the child to wash their hands using the same method.
Many of the parents also joined in the exercise as well as some of the many other visitors to the event. The initial feedback from visitors commented positively on how good the initiative was to demonstrate effective hand washing to children with the added bonus that it also helps create a positive view of the importance of the work of environmental health officers.
As evidence of the effectiveness of the initiative CIEH students were asked to visit a local nursery to demonstrate the same hand washing exercise to the children.
Another health promotion intervention I have been involved in was the “Step up to the plate challenge”. This intervention, undertaken at the Abergavenny Food Festival in September, was aimed at adults to increase their awareness of exercise versus food consumption.
The challenge was for each participant to arrange food items (cereal bars, meat loaf, sticky ribs, and a Mars bar) from the least to most calories required for the person consuming them to burn the food off whilst walking from Cardiff to Barry. If the person arranged the food items incorrectly, the student arranged them in the correct order and then explained that some foods contained a higher calorific value due to the amount of sugar, and fat content.
We received very positive feedback with many participants telling us that this exercise increased their awareness of calories and that they would apply this information to their daily life.
These examples demonstrate how feedback can be obtained about public health promotional work. This can be important as many of these interventions are designed to tackle the big challenges facing public health, but in a positive way that empowers people to make their own changes.
Our role as environmental health officers is as much about prevention as it is detection and cure. The importance of educating people on how they can play a role in ensuring good standards means we are helping create a society in which people not only pick up good habits but are also aware of the impact they have on their environment.
The Wales Audit Office public consultation on environmental health services is now closed.
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