Spotlight on public health inspectors in Canadian campaign

By Lindsay Advocate

The local health unit responds to approximately 600 animal bite incidents each year.

As part of the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspector’s national awareness campaign, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR District Health Unit) is highlighting the work of its 16 Public Health Inspectors (PHI) in Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton County, and Northumberland County. 

The role of a Public Health Inspector (PHI) is diverse and proactive in preventing potential illness and injury. Whether inspecting that food is safe to eat, checking that water is safe to drink and use, ensuring environmental hazards do not pose a health risk, supporting case and contract tracing for different diseases, or educating and enforcing the changing restrictions during COVID-19, the daily work of Public Health Inspectors is varied but often goes unnoticed. 

“Simply put, your health is their business,” says Dr. Natalie Bocking, Medical Officer of Health with the HKPR District Health Unit. “In a constantly changing environment, Public Health Inspectors are the first-line of defense against many different diseases and ailments that can affect people’s health.” 

Dr. Bocking acknowledges the work of Public Health Inspectors often flies under the radar because any outbreaks or illnesses that could have occurred are proactively prevented by Public Health Inspectors. “Prevention and promotion are the name of the game, and Public Health Inspectors do their jobs expertly and effectively,” she notes. “They do this in many different ways, whether reducing the risk of foodborne illness, promoting food handler skills, checking that small water drinking systems work properly, helping rural residents keep their well water safe, following up on animal bite incidents to prevent rabies, and ensuring it’s safe to get a haircut, manicure, pedicure or tattoo.” 

HKPR District Health Unit Public Health Inspectors:

  • Respond to approximately 600 animal bite incidents each year. PHIs conduct animal bite investigations and ensure vaccine is available to people who may have been exposed to rabies.
  • Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, inspected 1,137 low-, medium- and high-risk restaurants and food premises in Haliburton County, Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes to ensure they followed safe food practices and all food regulations.
  • Conduct regular inspections on personal care settings (like beauty/body art establishments, salons and tattoo studios) and recreational water facilities (including 98 public pools, 15 public whirlpools and nearly 50 area beaches). Recent Health Unit inspection records and results for these settings, including food premises, are available online.
  • Were redeployed during COVID-19 to assist with the pandemic response. In 2021, inspectors fielded hundreds of calls about changing COVID-19 regulations and also investigated dozens of complaints leading to 34 charges for various COVID-19 infractions.
  • Carry out inspections on 650 small drinking water systems in HKPR District Health Unit area that serve restaurants, marinas, golf courses, churches, seasonal trailer parks, summer camps and other facilities.

Protecting public health means going to great extents – and places – as Public Health Inspectors also conduct regular checks of child-care facilities, nursing homes, rest and retirement homes, group homes, migrant farm worker accommodations, funeral homes, tanning salons, shelters and children’s recreational camps. 

Health Inspectors will also monitor for ‘vector-borne’ diseases, like West Nile virus and Lyme Disease in the area, offering prevention tips to help people avoid mosquitoes and ticks that can spread these illnesses. And in the event of disasters, environmental risks and health hazards, PHIs are also ready to respond and assist with recovery.

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