By Michael Selinger
Smoking in or near the workplace can create health risks, both for smokers themselves and for nearby workers who breathe in second-hand smoke.
Smoking is therefore a health and safety risk, and you need to assess and implement controls to reduce smoking in your workplace as part of your general duty to provide a safe workplace.
While the health risks of smoking are well known these days, it doesn’t do any harm to point them out once again.
Smoking can cause the following health risks to both the smokers themselves and those receiving second-hand smoke:
- heart disease;
- lung disease;
- respiratory tract infections; and
Do you have a non-smoking policy?
If you don’t have one, it’s a good idea to think about developing and implementing a non-smoking policy. This policy should outline the areas in the workplace where smoking is never allowed.
All jurisdictions ban smoking in enclosed public spaces, including workplaces, subject to certain exceptions.
If you nominate a designated smoking area in an outside part of your workplace, ensure that there are clear rules informing workers not to use other areas if for some reason they can’t smoke in the designated area, e.g. in bad weather conditions ensure that smokers understand that they are not to use an unauthorised area within or near the workplace.
All workers should be inducted in your smoking policy, and the policy should be communicated to all visitors, suppliers and customers who visit your workplace.
Safe Work Australia has released a guide for employers called Health Monitoring for Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals, which discusses:
- how to conduct health monitoring;
- questions to ask during health monitoring; and
- personal lifestyle choices that workers can make to help them quit smoking.
This guide can help you to create a policy for your workplace in relation to smoking.
Help your workers to quit
A number of services exist to help smokers quit smoking and improve their health. Some of the services you can refer workers to include:
- Quit Victoria;
- QuitCoach; and
If your business allows workers to smoke in the workplace, then you should carefully consider whether you are taking all reasonably practicable steps to protect the safety of other workers from the harmful effects of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS).
Regardless of whether an outdoor smoking area is provided, your business should prohibit:
- smoking indoors;
- smoking in vehicles or other fully or partially enclosed areas; and
- smoking in areas where smoke can drift into places that people are working, such as near doorways, windows or ventilation ducts.
What is environmental tobacco smoke?
ETS has been a recognised hazard for many years. Commonly referred to as passive smoking or second-hand smoking, the risk is created by workers smoking in the vicinity of others and exposing non-smokers to a complex mixture of chemicals and particles released into the air when they smoke a cigarette, cigar or pipe.
In Australia, it is estimated that there are about 200 deaths every year directly related to ETS, so it is a significant problem.
Separate to the harmful effects on the health of others, cigarettes are also a fire hazard in the workplace, particularly since most workplaces contain flammable material such as furniture, fittings, paper products and chemicals.
All safety legislation requires you to protect your workers from ETS, and a number of laws exist that prohibit smoking in a wide range of enclosed public places, transport vehicles and other outdoor locations.
Ideally, smoking in the workplace should be completely eliminated, including in outdoor areas, as this would prevent any risk of ETS. If you choose to provide workers with a designated outdoor smoking area, ensure that it has adequate natural ventilation.
How to reduce smoking in your workplace
To reduce smoking in your workplace, implement the following administrative controls:
- develop a non-smoking policy;
- inform new recruits about the workplace rules regarding smoking;
- encourage and assist workers to give up smoking; and
- offer staff access to quit smoking programs, such as Quitnow.
A non-smoking policy can be developed in consultation with your workers and aimed at addressing:
- a nominated date from when smoking will not be permitted in any enclosed area;
- allowing staff in a particular work area to declare their area totally smoke free before that start date; and
- limiting smoking to nominated times and/or areas, e.g. during scheduled breaks, and only in areas where there is no risk of smoke drift.