Variety of work in Gold Coast environmental health

Variety is the name of the game and no two days are ever the same when you work in environmental health, says Griffith University’s Sonya Kozak.

The third year Bachelor of Public Health (Environmental Health and Sustainability) student says it was this variety of work which encouraged her to transfer from a Bachelor of Science after
her first year of study.

“The beauty of this field is that it is very broad with many interesting areas to choose from such as soil, water or air pollution management, compliance, to prevention of communicable diseases.”

Now working on placement with the Gold Coast Public Health Unit, Sonya says she is particularly enjoying the investigative work involved in cases of retail non-compliance.

“Working with a fully qualified environmental health officer, I have been helping to investigate complaints regarding Surfers Paradise cigarette retailers who have allegedly been providing cigarettes to minors. My role has been to assist with the preparation of the background notes for the upcoming legal trial and also to help remedy the situation by providing information on the current legislation to those involved.”

Sonya says it can be challenging to work in enforcement within the community. “I do really like the investigative nature of the job. Another interesting case was where we had received complaints from the public regarding a vet who had allegedly supplied restricted drugs to animal owners in suspiciously high quantities.

“Sometimes we could be in a position where we have provided a number of warnings to a business about cleaning up their act, but to no avail. We then have to think about providing them
with an infringement notice. This can be tough but it’s a necessary part of the job.”

On other days, Sonya says she can be doing something totally different such as assessing levels of risk associated with legionella in the water of a local organisation.

“As officers who are expected to identify and prevent environmental health-related risks and hazards, we need to have a strong knowledge of the science behind the problems. For example, knowledge of the types of bacteria that could be in the food or water samples that we collect and take to the lab. This can be challenging because the knowledge in the field changes constantly but it’s important that we keep ourselves up-to-date in these areas.

“It’s all very varied and we deal with a wide range of people from council to the private sector, to Queensland Health and local legal practitioners.”

Expected to graduate with honours next year, Sonya says she is still undecided about which area of environmental health to specialise in.

“At the end of the day, though, the work is about making a difference to health and environmental sustainability within the community and there are heaps of really exciting opportunities out there!
“I wouldn’t be doing anything else now,” she says.

Excitement with new program

Associate Professor Anne Roiko, who leads the discipline of Environmental Health at Griffith, said her team is excited about the new Bachelor of Environmental Health program being launched
in 2014.

“Building on years of graduating successful environmental health professionals through Griffith University this new revamped degree offers exciting opportunities for students to combine their interests in protecting the environment and enhancing the health and wellbeing of communities here and abroad,” says Associate Professor Roiko.

The Public Health team will be available at Griffith’s Open Day on 11 August to promote the new Environmental Health program.

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