As Hong Kong authorities strive to prevent outbreaks of avian flu or reduce cases of dengue fever, public awareness campaigns are mounted and regulations are put into effect to stop the spread of disease. The Hong Kong public can rest assured that the Department of Food and Environmental Hygiene has the situation in hand.
Integrity, responsiveness, adaptability and accountability are keys to success in the field of public service, according to Luk Ming-yan, a senior superintendent with the department. These attributes are especially necessary to be an effective civil servant within the health inspectorate, he adds.
Formed on January 1, 2000, the Department of Food and Environmental Hygiene is served by about 13,000 employees. It is responsible for ensuring that food available for human consumption is wholesome, hygienic and safe; and that public health is safeguarded through testing and control of live food animals, effective pest control and public cleansing services.
Striving to serve
Mr Luk heads up the hawker and market section of the department, responsible for the management of hawkers and markets. Mr Luk says, "This is one of the most challenging posts within the department. We have over seven to eight thousand licensed hawkers in Hong Kong along with 13,000 licensed market stalls that have been let to the public."
Besides keeping track of licensed hawkers, Mr Luk says, "we also have to watch illegal hawking activities in the territories. There are as many as three to four thousand unlicensed hawkers at any one time, especially during tough economic times."
As senior superintendent, Mr Luk manages the policy aspects of the department and directly supervises eight to 10 people. He and his team are developing effective and rational policies for the department and are also working on aligning hawker licensing and market management policies in Hong Kong's urban areas together with those in the New Territories.
"The hours are long, however, job satisfaction is high. One of the benefits of the position is that one is not desk bound"
"My job consists mainly of dealing with middle and lower income people," Mr Luk explains. "One must strike a balance between various interest groups and the legal requirements. In Hong Kong you have to take into consideration local eating habits when it comes to food and environmental safety. Chinese people like to eat 'hot meat'. In other countries the meat can be frozen. This is one reason why we have to strive for more hygienic conditions and are installing air conditioning in all new markets. One cannot compromise on health and hygiene aspects - this is the real challenge of the job," he adds.
It takes a specialist
Due to the technical nature of the job, a career in environmental health and hygiene is very specialised. Entry-level positions require applicants with higher diplomas. Mr Luk advises students interested in this field to have a background in applied science such as chemistry, biology or mathematics. The department provides on-the-job training and new recruits are briefed on the latest legislation and administrative techniques.
A job as health inspector offers a variety of responsibilities in areas such as food hygiene, slaughterhouses, hawkers markets, licensing, cemeteries, crematoria, pest control and more. According to Mr Luk this is a challenging job for young people if they enjoy serving the public and working under pressure. The hours are long, however, job satisfaction is high. One of the benefits of the position is that one is not desk bound. Inspectors must go out to inspect various venues, meet with customers and ensure that health laws are observed.
Newspaper advertising works
Mr Luk began his career by responding to a job ad in the newspaper for an entry-level position with the Urban Services Department (as it was formerly known). Twenty-seven years later, he now holds one of the top management positions within the department.
"Like every new recruit, during the first half of my career I needed a lot of technical support," Mr. Luk explains. He earned a diploma from the Royal Society of Health (RSH), in the United Kingdom and was promoted to Health Inspector II and in 1982 to Health Inspector I.
Mr Luk continued to work his way up with a promotion to Senior Health Inspector, followed by Chief Health Inspector in 1993. "The second half of my career focused on management and administration," Mr Luk says. He enhanced his career opportunities by attending a part-time course at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, earning a post-graduate diploma in public sector management.
Merit increases followed and Mr Luk was promoted to Superintendent of Environmental Health in 1997, and in June of 2001 he gained the rank of Senior Superintendent of Environmental Health, the top post within the section.