How to reduce the risks caused by smoking in your workplace
Researchers from Monash University have calculated that the cost of tobacco smoking to the Australian economy, over the course of the current population’s working lives, could be $388 billion.
The research examined reduced life expectancies, reduction in quality of life and productivity based on the GDP each worker generated in 2016.
Tobacco smoking is the biggest cause of preventable death in Australia and responsible for the highest proportion of cancer deaths (22%).
And smoking is not only a health risk to smokers themselves either. Non-smoking workers who are exposed to second-hand smoke are also at risk.
It is well-known that breathing tobacco smoke can cause
- heart disease;
- lung disease;
- respiratory tract infections; and
Health and safety legislation stipulates that you have an obligation to do everything reasonably practicable to provide a safe place of work.
While smoking is not specifically mentioned in health and safety legislation, it is a health and safety risk that must be minimised as part of your general obligation to provide a safe workplace.
This includes health monitoring for the effects of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) in your workplace.
To do this, you must create a policy and procedures around where and when workers can smoke, and enforce it.
5 steps to manage health and safety risks associated with smoking
To ensure you are doing everything reasonably practicable to meet your obligations relating to smoking in your workplace, follow these steps:
Step 1: Introduce a workplace promotion program to support improvements in workplace health
A workplace promotion program is designed to teach healthy lifestyle choices and support workers in making decisions, such as quitting smoking. Such programs are often supported by regular health checks.
The purpose of a workplace promotion program is to:
- educate workers;
- provide support and resources for workers to make healthy choices;
- develop policies, procedures and processes to limit workers’ exposure to tobacco; and
- provide regular, free health checks for identifying to workers what their individual health risks are.
Step 2: Run business-wide confidential health checks to determine any current health risks to your workers
There is very clear evidence linking worker productivity and attendance with worker health. Helping your workers maintain their health will benefit you and your business.
Step 3: Consult workers and introduce a smoke-free policy
Prohibit smoking indoors, in vehicles, or in areas where smoke can drift into other work areas.
Information regarding smoking restrictions should be included in induction material for all workers, and should be communicated to visitors, suppliers and customers.
Note that smoking is highly addictive. Breaches of the policy should be handled in a supportive manner wherever appropriate. Employees should be counselled and given support before a disciplinary approach is taken.
Step 4: If smoking is to be permitted, ensure it is in a separate, well-ventilated area that does not expose non-smokers to smoke
Any designated outdoor smoking-permitted area must be have adequate natural ventilation.
There is no requirement to provide a shelter unless you assess that it is necessary to control an identified risk to people’s health and safety.
That is, if you have identified that there are risks to people from being located in the designated area, you must take reasonably practicable steps to control those risks.
That step may be to provide a shelter depending on the nature of the risk.
Alternatively, it may simply involve a direction in your policy stating that the designated area not be used in certain situations, e.g. during hazardous weather conditions or when the area is being used for another purpose.
To minimise the risk of fire, it’s beneficial to provide ashtrays or non-combustible covered receptacles for disposal of waste.
Also workers must be aware of safe access routes to the designated smoking area. You need to avoid a situation where workers ‘duck out for a smoko’ and take an unsafe route through the premises, exposing them to risk of injury.
Step 5: Allocate resources and support to workers who make healthy decisions like giving up smoking
Consider providing access to quit smoking programs, or offer incentives to employees who quit.
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