In times like these we remember just how connected we all are, and how much we depend on each other. The Covid-19 crisis has shown that, despite our differences, most of us want others to be safe and are happy to do our bit. It has also shown how much we value the institutions and professionals who are working so hard to protect us.

At Unchecked, we think our public bodies do amazing work keeping us safe in every area of life – looking out for our health, for our rights at work, for the safety of our families and for our natural environment. This web of public protectors, often unseen, are our country’s immune system.

We’re speaking to public protectors about the vital work they do, and the changes they’re seeing as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

Photo of Rob Couch, environmental health advisor

Una Kane is Environmental Health Manager at Rother District Council. This interview below does not necessarily reflect the views of Rother District Council.

“Our aim in everything we do is to protect public health through proactive inspections, licensing, complaints investigations, monitoring for pollutants and sampling.”

The team’s work is varied: “Food hygiene, air quality, rented housing standards, health and safety at work places, noise pollution – these are some of the issues that we deal with every day.”

“We are independent, professional, local regulators who are accountable to locally democratically elected representatives. Our role is to encourage, cajole and ultimately enforce compliance with legislation for the benefit of the community.”

“This is the stuff that can make life bearable or intolerable.”

The work of Una and her colleagues also includes enforcing common-sense rules that can make a huge difference to peoples’ quality of life.

“Asking residents to turn down their music, clear the rubbish from their garden, re direct their security lights – this is the stuff that can make life bearable or intolerable.”

Their enforcement work helps good businesses succeed, while flagging up businesses that are cutting corners.

“We give food hygiene ratings to food businesses. For good businesses, this local approval helps them thrive, and poor food businesses are publicly identified so consumers can make informed choices.”

Many other areas are also covered by environmental health teams:

“The local Environmental Health Officer intervenes when private rented housing standards are poor, monitors the air quality, investigates accidents at work and cases of food borne disease. All to protect public health by improving and protecting the man-made and natural environment.”

“But this work can only be done effectively with reasonable funding to employ sufficient numbers of qualified Environmental Health Officers and associated qualified staff, working in professionally-led teams.”

“We will never know how many lives we have saved.”

Una and her team have seen a change in their workload due to Covid-19, as they are now responsible for enforcing coronavirus regulations for local businesses.

“Environmental Health Officers patrol their districts, observe business activity, give advice on the telephone and when necessary take enforcement action. All local authorities have received high numbers of calls from concerned residents which we respond to.”

“We will never know how many lives we have saved.”

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