The Role of Public Health Inspectors in Maintaining Housing in Northern and Rural Communities: Recommendations to Support Public Health Practice

Stephanie Lefebvre, Phyllis Montgomery, Isabelle Michel, Claire Warren, Tricia Larose, Carol Kauppi


Objective: Although there is much evidence about the effects of particular housing conditions on health, less is known about the practices of public health inspectors (PHIs) in relation to minimizing or eliminating potential housing health risks. The purpose of this qualitative study was to illuminate the practices of PHIs in relation to types of biological and physical housing risks.

Method: This study used photo vignettes to focus on PHIs’ perceptions, options, and resultant interventions with regards to typical housing risks encountered by PHIs in northeastern Ontario. The vignettes represented two general categories of potential housing risks: biological exposures, and physical characteristics of housing. During a semi-structured interview, 34 PHI participants viewed the vignettes, assessed the housing hazard depicted in each, and described the most appropriate intervention. Traditional content analysis methods were used.

Results: The assessment of the physical housing hazards was fairly consistent among the PHIs. There seemed to be more variation in their assessment of risk associated with biological factors. Variation in responses was often explained by their different interpretations of the scope of the provincial legislation as well as local public health unit policies and practices.

Conclusion: This study demonstrated that PHIs’ assessment and responses to potential physical housing hazards were influenced by an interplay between variables related to residents, local service partners, organizational culture, and policy. The recommendations for action also range from specific public health unit protocol to broader research and policy advocacy initiatives. Collectively, the recommendations focus on strategies for optimizing the role of PHIs in reducing housing health risks in mid-size urban or rural areas.

Key words: Housing; environmental health; health hazards; public health; rural health


Housing; Environmental Health; Health Hazards; Public Health; Rural Health

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