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Understanding the ethical positioning of Environmental Health Officers in work-based situations: a study illustrating the use of a phenomenological approach

Mark Hardwick MSc, BA(Hons), Cert Ed, ACIEH

CIEH South West Region Research Group, Plymouth University Sport and Exercise Research Group

Correspondence: rutmhardwick@plymouth.ac.uk  


By following a qualitative phenomenological research design this study considers the ethical positioning of Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) in routine, work-based situations. By examining lived experiences the study uncovers how ethical standpoints affect decision making, and how dilemmas created by conflicting ethical demands are addressed.

The methodology is observant of the conventions and requirements of phenomenological research inquiry, and the resulting article is a triangulation of the recounted lived experiences of EHPs, phenomenological theory and ethical theory.

Four participants, all members of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) with considerable experience of working in Environmental Health, and based in the South West region, were interviewed. Data were analysed inductively, and following phenomenological data processing standards, the findings are presented th ematically.

The findings show that Environmental Health is an ethically strong profession, though ethical dilemmas do occur often. EHPs have developed their own ways of resolving these, though problems of conscience may remain. Sometimes the ethical position is incompatible with the rigid process of law, but rarely is the professional ethical code incompatible with personal morality.

There are occasions where the desire to act ethically causes tensions with senior managers, whose priorities may run counter to high ethical standards. The CIEH Code of Ethics was found to provide a strong professional underpinning for the EHP, whilst allowing some degree of leeway, when and where necessary.

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