Environmental health on a military scale for British Army

17th of July 2015
Environmental health on a military scale for British Army

Lt Col Gareth Moore heads up the British Army's team of military environmental health practitioners. Based at The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the south of England, his unit is responsible for taking care of the health of the armed forces wherever in the world they are deployed.

The primary role of the environmental health team is to be deployed around the world in order to carry out a risk assessment at the initial stages of any army operation. "Before any troops are sent, my personnel are there to determine vaccination requirements, sanitation needs, etc," Lt Col Moore explains in an exclusive interview with ECJ. "The army describes us a key enablers, because we take care of all aspects of environmental health and disaster relief."

As head of Army Environmental Health, with personnel situated around the UK and other locations including Cyprus, Gibraltar, Kenya, Canada and Germany, Lt Col Moore has worked around the world, often facing extreme conditions. He continues: "In simple terms, the army cannot afford to have soldiers out of action because of D&V (diarrhoea and vomiting), and that's where environmental health experts play a vital role.

"In Afghanistan, for example, we had a great deal of work to do in preventing disease outbreaks. Our brief is to prevent disease and non-battle injuries. The team is involved in all aspects of this - from food safety to water hygiene."

Every member of the team is a qualified EHO and they have expertise in areas including monitoring of air quality and help with earthquake contingency. The selection process is stringent and for the successful candidates this is a wonderful job, with plenty of opportunity for travel.

The team is also responsible for pre-deployment health briefs to soldiers, with the basic premise that "the individual is more important than the environment they're in".

When establishing hygiene standards on British Army camps abroad, it is not always possible to implement the same cleaning regimes, etc which would be in place in normal circumstances. "For example, if your kitchen is a tent, it's not going to be cleaned to the usual standards expected," Lt Col Moore says. "So we place great emphasis on temperature control, cooking methods, and personal hygiene of the chefs. Hand hygiene is absolutely crucial and we have hand washing stations for all the personnel to use before eating.

"And thanks to the extensive work we have done, we find everyone really does follow the correct procedures, almost to OCD levels at times. Many of them have learned the hard way, because most of them have been ill at some stage. So I am very proud of the fact we have very few outbreaks due to bad food hygiene or cleanliness."

The army does use contractors on mature operations abroad, after a camp has been established for two or three years. Private companies may be used for waste management, sanitation, provision and servicing of portable toilets, etc. "Each contractor will often employ local people as cleaners, in whichever country we are in," Lt Col Moore says. Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, for example, was home to 15,000 people at its height so that level of service was necessary.

When working in such unusual and extreme circumstances, how can standards of cleanliness and hygiene be monitored and upheld? "We use UK and EU standards as our benchmark," replies Lt Col Moore. "If that is unrealistic we work as close to them as possible in how we manage water, infrastructure and clinical governance. A tent, for example, simply cannot be a sterile environment.

"Disease outbreaks are our greatest responsibility and greatest challenge," he concludes. "People who are stressed, physically challenged and living in close quarters are always at greatest risk."


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