Smoking ban will be culture shock for many…

Nearly half of all employers will have to change their smoking policies to comply with the new law coming into effect in the summer of 2007, according to research by Personnel Today’s sister publication, IRS Employment Review.

A survey of 173 organisations found that 45% expect to have to alter their current approach when a ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces comes into effect in England and Wales as a result of the Health Act 2006. The ban is already law in Scotland.

The study found that 30% of employers had already brought in policy changes over the past two years as pressure to protect their employees from passive smoking began to build.

Among public service organisations – many from the NHS and local government – nearly half (48%) had already tightened their policies. In the private sector just 13% of manufacturers had taken action.

Organisations are focusing on two main changes: banning smoking in employer-provided vehicles and removing smoking rooms from inside buildings, sometimes replacing them with covered outdoor shelters for staff.

Although public services are the least likely to plan further changes, the IRS research suggests that this is because their policies already comply with the legislation. Among private sector employers, one in five plans to stage changes, compared with just 3% overall.

Employers that fail to comply with the law could be fined between £200 and £1,000 for failing to display ‘no smoking’ signs, and between £200 and £2,500 for failing to enforce the ban. Employees could face a £50 penalty for flouting the ban.

…but most employers already have restrictions in place

The IRS research revealed that smoking restrictions are already widespread, with almost three out of four employers imposing a complete ban inside their buildings and just one in five providing an indoor smoking room.

Once again, public service organisations are most likely to have a complete ban in place, while manufacturers remain the most tolerant of smokers.

Three out of 10 manufacturers (31%) also provided a smoking room for their employees, compared with just one in 10 (11%) public service bodies.

Although many employers still allow their staff to smoke outside the front door (39%), others have clear guidelines about what is permissible.

One food manufacturer taking part in the survey said it insisted that employees went outside the perimeter fence to light up, and a private sector housing and care provider changed its employment contracts to prohibit smoking around its premises for all new recruits.

Those who are sent outdoors to smoke, meanwhile, are more likely to find a purpose-built shelter if they work for a manufacturer (51%) and least likely to do so in the public sector (22%).

…and they want to help their staff to give up

One in five (20%) of the employers surveyed by IRS already asked potential recruits if they smoked when they applied for a job. Unlike other measures, this is much more common in manufacturing (30%) than among public service organisations (6%).

Although the law has yet to be tested, IRS believes that a legal challenge to any job ad that asked for non-smokers would fail as nicotine addiction is not classified as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The survey also shows that most employers already try to help staff who want to give up smoking – providing written information (71%), access to advice from health professionals (69%) and free or subsidised smoking cessation programmes (40%).

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