Learning about Local Environmental Health Authorities in the United Kingdom: A Month-Long Sabbatical Experience

Article excerpt

Introduction

September of 1996 was one of the most educational - as well as enjoyable - months of my life. Thanks to the Sabbatical Exchange Program sponsored by NEHA and funded by NSF International, I had the opportunity to visit the United Kingdom and spend four weeks talking with environmental health officials in that country.

The first week of my sabbatical was spent attending a congress on environmental health sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), the U.K. equivalent of NEHA. CIEH has 8,600 members, the majority of whom work for local authorities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Approximately 800 CIEH members attended the congress. Outstanding education sessions helped me to learn about environmental issues of concern in the United Kingdom and enabled me to meet environmental health officers from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland all in one location. Elected city council officials, who have responsibilities for environmental health, also attended the conference. I enjoyed talking with them and hearing their perspectives.

After the congress, I discussed environmental health issues with environmental health officials in the cities of Manchester, Stockport, Birmingham, Lemington Spa, Bristol, and London and at the University of Birmingham. The majority of my time was spent at local environmental health authorities learning how their programs are organized and managed, as well as what their priorities are.

This paper discusses some of what I learned during my visit to the United Kingdom.

Deregulation - A Major Concern at the Congress

CIEH's congress was held from September 2 to September 5, 1996, in the beautiful resort town of Harrogate, which is located about 200 miles north of London. Each day highlighted a different program. Highlighted programs were Occupational Health and Safety; Food Protection; Environmental Protection (Contaminated Land and Indoor and Outdoor Air Quality); and Housing.

A topic that was raised several times during congress meetings was the central government's deregulation initiative. According to Roger Freeman, the central government minister responsible for deregulation, the purpose is to reduce the burden of regulation on business, while balancing this reduction with the needs of consumers and the environment. In a paper presented at the congress, the Cabinet Office wrote: Regulations are, of course, needed to provide protection of various kinds, but the regulatory regime must enable business to flourish and consumers to have choice. The aims of the deregulation initiative can be summed up as Fewer, Better, Simpler.

Fewer: Ensuring that the aims of regulation are delivered through the minimum number of rules and procedures.

Better: Regulations that are unambiguous in their scope and requirements that are easier for business to comply with and that aid consistent enforcement.

Simpler: Regulations should be clearly expressed, in plain English (1).

The paper continues, "It remains a common complaint of business that heavy-handed enforcement still exists. In order to address this concern the (central) government took new powers in Section 5 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act of 1994 to introduce procedures for business-friendly enforcement to existing regulatory legislation" (2).

Among other things, Section 5 gives businesses the right to have what they are asked to do, as well as their rights of appeal, set out clearly in writing. Section 5 also says that businesses must have the opportunity to make representations to the authority (on the basis of a "minded to take action" notice) before any formal action is taken. It should be stressed that Section 5 powers do not prevent or delay immediate enforcement action when it is needed.

In the meetings with CIEH members and in my visits with local health authorities, it became clear to me that this deregulation initiative did not sit well. …