Restricting smoking in the workplace can be part of a complete health and safety and/or a health promotion program in the workplace. It is very important to remember that for many workers, exposure to tobacco smoke is just one of the many hazards they face on a regular basis. While most people would be in agreement that exposure to ETS should be addressed, it should be done as part of a complete occupational health program and it should not take away resources or distract attention from other hazards that may be present.
This document will cover issues related to smoking restrictions in the workplace including legal obligations, ventilation, and steps to take when instituting a workplace smoking policy. For general information about environmental tobacco smoke and possible related health effects, please see the OSH Answers document Environmental Tobacco Smoke: General Information and Health Effects.
Smoking in the workplace often results in higher expenses for employers. It has been estimated by the Conference Board of Canada that on the average each employee who smokes costs the employer $3,396 a year (as reported by Health Canada, 2008). These costs are attributed to increased absenteeism, lower productivity, unscheduled smoke breaks, maintenance of smoking areas, property damage, and health and fire insurance costs. Other studies report that non-smoking employees have difficulty concentrating where ETS is present.
Studies have shown that smoke-free environments also make for increased productivity, better morale, and lower cleaning costs.
These factors, along with health concerns, have led many regulators and employers to institute smoking controls in the workplace. Some have introduced policies that restrict smoking in the workplace, or limit certain types of jobs to non-smoking employees. Others offer programs designed to encourage and assist employees to give up smoking.
Traditionally, smoking has not been allowed in situations that involve working with flammable, combustible and/or explosive materials. In these situations tobacco smoking is not restricted to protect people from the health effects of ETS but rather to protect them from the obvious fire and explosion hazards.
In other situations, smoking has been banned as a measure to prevent hand-to-mouth digestion of chemicals. Food, drink, and cigarettes are frequently contaminated by contact with unwashed hands, gloves or clothing, or by being left exposed in the workplace.
Since the early 1990s, however, health concerns about exposure to ETS have broadened legislation.
All Canadian jurisdictions, have a formal law or regulation that restricts smoking in the workplace. Smoking is completely prohibited in workplaces in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba, New Brunswick and British Columbia. Some provinces allow a separately ventilated room to be built in the workplace.
Regulations are not the same from province to province so it is important that local authorities are consulted. A list of Canadian governmental occupational health & safety departments is located in OSH Answers.
A list of ETS regulations and smoke free workplace legislation is also available.
Note: Access to the actual legislation requires a subscription.
Some jurisdictions have banned smoking from the building entirely while others have restricted smoking to specific rooms or areas. In some cases, smoking is restricted in public buildings (including provincial government offices) but the restriction does not apply to other workplaces. Where smoking is permitted in a specific room or area, these areas must meet certain criteria in terms of the uses of the room and ventilation.
Where smoking is not permitted in the workplace, it is often restricted from any area that is considered a work space. A "work space" may mean any indoor or other enclosed space in which employees perform the duties of their employment, and includes any adjacent corridor, lobby, stairwell, elevator, cafeteria, washroom or other common area frequented by such employees while they are at work. In some workplaces, this ban has been extended to include company vehicles as well.
Public entertainment facilities (such as restaurants, bars and games rooms) and other establishments (such as long-term residential facilities including extended care facilities and prisons) present a unique situation. Debate has centered on two main concerns: on one hand these places are public spaces or they are considered a residence where smoking has traditionally been permitted, but on the other hand it is a workplace and the rights of the employees need to be considered. Again, local provincial or municipal regulations should be consulted to determine what the law is for your area or situation.
Smoking restriction policies range from minor measures to total bans.
Initially some companies attempted to deal with the smoking problem by segregating smokers and nonsmokers. This approach requires smoking and nonsmoking workstations, office areas, lunch areas, and lounges. Although this approach is intended to satisfy both smokers and nonsmokers, it is not entirely effective. Tobacco smoke is not eliminated under this system because it is almost impossible to remove tobacco smoke from buildings by ventilation or other means such as electrostatic filters. Therefore, some ETS will drift over from the smoking to the nonsmoking areas. In addition, neither smokers nor nonsmokers are satisfied by this segregated arrangement. Nonsmokers continue to object to drifting tobacco smoke and smokers dislike being segregated from their colleagues.
If smoking is not completely banned at your workplace by legislation, there are two options to consider:
|Smoke-free|| || |
|Separately Ventilated Area|| || |
Designated areas may be available to employees who smoke. Requirements often include that the room be:
Except in an emergency, an employer must not require an employee to enter an indoor area where smoking is permitted.
If outdoors, the area should not be by the entrances to the building where non-smokers have to pass by to enter the building. It should be a separate area, sheltered if possible, which is away from the building's air intake vents. Local weather conditions will play a role in determining what type of shelter is needed.
Ventilation requirements often include requirements that the smoking area:
Increasing ventilation is often proposed as one way to control concentrations of ETS. The quality of the air in a building depends on the design and operation of the building's environmental control system. Typically systems are designed to maximize human comfort. However, cost and energy constraints must be considered and, therefore, the goal of maximal comfort is often compromised.
Minimum required ventilation rates are usually set to limit the carbon dioxide concentration. Ventilation rates for smoking can be based on various factors such as odour noticed by visitors to a room, irritation experienced by nonsmoking occupants, haze (smokiness), or concentrations of smoke contaminants. Tobacco smoke odours are very difficult to control by ventilation and require high ventilation rates. Also, standard filtration systems in buildings do not remove carbon monoxide or any of the other gases present in tobacco smoke.
Many researchers have concluded that attempts to overcome tobacco smoking contamination by ventilation are futile, since they require ventilation rates far in excess of what is economical. There is a growing consensus that, while some adjustments to workplace ventilation systems may reduce tobacco smoke pollution, the effectiveness of this approach is limited.
In addition, if ETS is present, general ventilation requirements may not apply since human carcinogens or other harmful contaminants are suspected to be present. ETS falls into this category based on the its association with lung cancer and other adverse health effects such as heart disease. Under these circumstances, other relevant standards or guidelines (e.g., local workplace exposure limits) may supersede the ventilation rate procedure.
In many respects, tobacco smoke is like any other workplace air contaminant. It can be reduced or eliminated by controlling emission at the source and by instituting policies and procedures to ensure the safety of all employees.
The key to a successful smoking program or policy is to ensure, through discussion, that it has support from the majority of staff and management. The transition to a smoke-free workplace can be implemented through specific steps. Ideally, all employees should be included in the planning process. Open discussions should take place on the kinds of policies that might work and how they should be enforced. As a rule, a strong policy needs to have the backing of all the groups which are covered by it. Employees should be kept informed of each step.
If an organization has committed itself to a smoke-free work environment, it should be prepared to enforce its smoking ban unconditionally. For example, allowing supervisory personnel to smoke because they may work in enclosed offices promotes resentment among smokers who are not allowed to smoke in open areas.
To help those smoking employees who want to stop smoking, a number of companies sponsor or subsidize smoking cessation programs. Complete health promotion programs have also been implemented including fitness and nutritional counselling, exercise classes, and organized sports activities.
There are three basic approaches for smoking cessation supports in the workplace. The chart below compares the pros and cons of each approach. To achieve the highest success, all three approaches should be introduced with activities incorporated into a broader wellness initiative.
Offering programs and activities at the workplace
Working with outside agencies to deliver programs and activities off-site, and providing self-help materials
|Education and Information:|
Providing employees with information including self-help materials
From: Health Canada, 2008. Smoking Cessation in the Workplace: A Guide to Helping Your Employees Quit Smoking.
Due to the health concerns arising from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, ABC Company Inc. has instituted this policy to provide a smoke-free environment for all employees and visitors.
This policy covers the smoking of any tobacco product and the use of smokeless (or spit) tobacco.
Smoking will not be allowed within the building at any time. Smoking will be allowed in designated smoking areas outside the building.
All materials used for smoking, including cigarette butts and matches, will be extinguished and disposed of in appropriate containers as provided. Supervisors will ensure periodic cleanups of the designated smoking area.
There will be no smoking in company vehicles at any time.
Supervisors will discuss the issue of smoking breaks with their staff. Together they will develop an effective solution that will not interfere with the productivity of the staff but allow for the wishes of the employee to be met.
Employees will be informed of this policy through signs posted in buildings and vehicles, the policy manual, and will receive orientation and training from their supervisors.
Visitors will be informed of this policy through signs and it will be explained by their host.
The company will assist employees who wish to quit smoking by facilitating access to recommended smoking cessation programs and materials.
Any violations of this policy will be handled through standard disciplinary procedures.
* Adapted from: Making Your Workplace Smokefree: A Decision Maker's Guide by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Document last updated on March 1, 2011