What Is a Health Inspector and How to Become One

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover the work you may perform in health inspector jobs, the average health inspector salary, and how to become a health inspector with this guide.

[Featured image] A health inspector analyzes a report using a smartphone and a notebook

Health inspector is the general term for jobs where professionals monitor and regulate health and safety aspects of various public and private settings. To become a health inspector, you’ll generally need an associate degree. Completing relevant certifications and professional certificates can increase your chances of success when applying for health inspector jobs. In this career, you’ll research, inspect, and evaluate the health status of communities, businesses, the environment, or industrial facilities. 

Job description of a health inspector 

As a health inspector, your responsibilities can vary depending on the location and focus of your work. Most health inspector jobs involve conducting investigations of potential health hazards or educating the public about health and safety issues.

The duties of the health inspector vary. Here are some examples of what you may do in the role:

  • Conducting investigations: When health officials hear about a possible health hazard in a community, a health inspector will look into it to see if there is a need for concern. For example, if there's an outbreak of flu, COVID-19, or hepatitis B, you will investigate.

  • Performing onsite inspections: You may visit restaurants, grocery stores, factories, and many other settings to ensure they follow safe practices. You may check food handling practices, equipment sanitation levels, waste disposal procedures, and hazardous chemical use among your many duties. These inspections often occur without advance notice, so health inspectors can see what's happening in an establishment during regular business hours under normal working conditions.

  • Consulting with and educating businesses: You may liaise with local companies and public health operators to guide them on complying with rules and regulations.

  • Preparing reports and summaries: You may prepare inspection reports, summaries, and complete documentation.

  • Appearing in court: You may provide in-court testimony as an expert witness when required.

Types of health inspectors 

The title of health inspector is a general term for various jobs investigating health and safety in society. Health inspector roles are often classified and named by the focus of the job. You'll find three main types of health inspector jobs widely advertised.

Public health inspector 

As a public health inspector, your primary concerns are the health and safety of the community. You may work for a local, state, or federal government agency and inspect facilities providing services to large groups or the wider community. For example, a school district may hire you to inspect all schools in the area. You may also investigate when a contagious disease outbreak occurs. 

Food/restaurant health inspector 

As a food or restaurant health inspector, you inspect restaurants and other food service establishments to ensure they comply with food safety and preparation regulations and laws. This includes checking for cleanliness, pest control, proper temperatures for storing food, employee hygiene, and proper food handling and preparation. As a food health inspector, you also must keep up to date with new federal, state, and local regulations.

Environmental health inspector 

As an environmental health inspector, you’ll investigate situations that may threaten the environment and public well-being. You may ensure that companies dispose of waste properly, not polluting water supplies or dumping toxic materials into landfills. 

Environmental health inspectors enforce health and environmental laws. Many inspectors work for federal, state, or local government agencies, such as regional water quality control boards, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and local bodies that regulate environmental policies, standards, and laws. 

Read more: What Is an Industrial Hygienist and What Do They Do?

You may also come across health inspector jobs classified as:

Occupational health and safety inspectors

As an occupational health and safety inspector, you must ensure that employees practicing particular occupations have adequate protection from physical and psychological risks, such as loss of limb or life, personal injuries, and abuses arising out of the nature of their work.

Agricultural health and food safety inspectors

Agricultural health and food safety inspectors visit farms, aquatic animal production facilities, and supply chain networks to ensure compliance with regulations.

Animal and plant health inspector

Animal and plant health inspectors examine animals, plants, plant products, or by-products for diseases, parasites, or infestations that may cause harm to animals, crops, or humans.

Desired skills of a health inspector

You need the following technical and workplace skills to be a health inspector.

Technical skills

The technical skills needed to be a health inspector vary depending on the job and specialization. You need to have a good understanding of various technical aspects of the job, such as these. 

  • Knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and other sciences, as they apply to health and safety

  • Knowledge of arithmetic and statistics, including algebra and geometry

  • Skill with a wide variety of software for reporting, statistical analysis, and project management

  • Understanding of environmental health issues, such as pollution and waste management

  • Expert knowledge of food and water-related public health issues

  • Good understanding of nutrition and basic human physiology

  • Experience with handheld and laboratory data collection and analysis equipment

Workplace skills

Workplace skills are just as critical as technical skills when you are a health inspector. As a health inspector, you’ll collaborate with colleagues and other agencies. You may need to provide training sessions or seminars and present inspection findings to senior staff or law enforcement agencies. You’ll need these skills:

  • Ability to apply the law when inspecting food premises or gathering evidence for prosecution purposes

  • Administrative skills for writing reports, maintaining records, and meeting deadlines with accuracy

  • Analytical skills for investigating the root causes of incidents, getting to the truth of how a problem happened, and working out how to prevent it from happening again

  • Ability to communicate effectively orally and in writing, even under pressure or in a busy environment

  • Ability to work well with others as you’ll often work in teams, including teams made up of representatives from different agencies or departments 

Where do health inspectors work?

As a health inspector, you may work in an office, in the field inspecting businesses, or on riverbanks analyzing water pollution levels. You may have a varied role incorporating lots of work settings. Your employer could be public or private. Here are some places where health inspectors often work.

• Health care organizations

• Local, state, and federal public health and environmental protection agencies

• Private companies whose activities may pose a risk to people or the environment


Salary and job outlook

The job outlook for health inspectors is bright. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment of environmental health and safety engineers to grow by 6 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is due to increased concern about environmental and workplace hazards.

The average salary for a health inspector is $62,485 per year [1]. On average, a food health inspector in the US earns $58,074 per year [2], a public health inspector makes $66,978 per year [3]. and environmental health inspectors earn $73,536 per year [4]. 

Read more: What Do Health Care Jobs Pay? Salaries, Job List, and More

Steps to become a health inspector 

To become a health inspector, you must complete specific education and training requirements. Here’s how to become a health inspector. 

Gain your high school diploma or GED

To become a health inspector, you’ll likely need to earn a high school diploma or GED and receive post-secondary training. Some states accept you with a high school diploma and offer on-the-job training. Different jurisdictions have job application criteria for health inspector roles, so check for the educational level you’ll need.

Hold a bachelor’s or associate degree in a relevant subject

Consider earning at least a bachelor's degree in occupational health and safety, public health, environmental science, or a similar field. You might choose a degree with coursework that maps to the role you want. 

For example, to focus on building site health and safety, look at an occupational health and safety course. If you focus on working as an environmental health inspector, consider an environmental health science degree.  

If a bachelor's program is not feasible for you, an associate degree can prepare you for entry-level jobs. Still, you may need to continue your education to advance your career.

Read more: What Is a Bachelor’s Degree? Requirements, Costs, and More

Optional certifications  

Earning certifications from an organization like the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) may help you stand out when looking for work as a health inspector. 

Some of the certification options include:

  • Registered Environmental Health Specialist: Registered Sanitarian (REHS/RS)

  • Certified Dietary Manager, Certified Food Protection Professional (CDM, CFPP) 

  • Food Service Sanitation Manager Certification (FSSMC)

When you meet the educational requirements for registration in your state, you may need to complete an examination that tests your knowledge in your chosen area of specialization.

Getting started

Ready to get started learning about being a health inspector? You can learn more about the job role and build your resume by completing the Foundations of Public Health Practice Specialization offered by Imperial College London. This specialization will provide you with a broad overview of the public health system and the field of public health. It may help you gain entry roles that can put you on the path to being a health inspector.

Article sources


Glassdoor. “How much does a health inspector make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/health-inspector-salary-SRCH_KO0,16.htm.” Accessed March 28, 2022.

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