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Smoking at Work: HSC proposes code of practice


The Health and Safety Commission (HSC), has decided that it favours the introduction of an Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) for passive smoking at work. This decision follows a public consultation on the issue.

It has also decided to recommend that in recognition of the particular challenges faced by parts of the hospitality industry, where the Public Places Charter applies, compliance with this will count as complying with the ACOP for two years. This will be supported by new guidance.

HSC Chair Bill Callaghan commented, "We carefully considered the different options, including continuing with a voluntary approach, before deciding that the best way of protecting the three million people still exposed to environmental tobacco smoke was through an ACOP."

"The introduction of an ACOP is an important and welcome development, and represents the best way to proceed in this contentious area. It will enable everyone - employers and employees, smokers and non-smokers - to know exactly where they stand with regard to workplace smoking and ensure compliance with health and safety law. It will guarantee the welfare of non smoking employees and allow employers to make arrangements best suited to the requirements of each enterprise."

"I would stress that the code should not be viewed as a draconian measure, that will prevent smokers enjoying a cigarette in their local pub or club. We are not proposing a ban on smoking in
workplaces. It is rather a recognition of the need to protect those workers exposed to environmental tobacco smoke and to build on existing good practice."

"I am aware that the introduction of an ACOP will require some, but not all, businesses to invest in measures that assist them in meeting its requirements. Nevertheless, I believe that the wider benefits, and particularly the welfare gains for those staff currently exposed to workplace tobacco smoke, makes such expenditure worthwhile".

The consultation document was issued on 29 July last year, with a three month period to respond to the options outlined. It included a draft ACOP. In the event, 83.2% of respondents favoured the introduction of an ACOP, 5.2% preferring stronger regulatory action and 11.7% rejecting a regulatory approach.

Commissioners discussed these figures and the accumulated evidence on the subject together with the views of key stakeholders. They concluded that the ACOP offered the most sensible way to tackle the workplace smoking.

The ACOP would give authoritative guidance on employers' obligations under health, safety, and welfare law regarding passive smoking at work. This Code would have special legal force, similar to that of the Highway Code. Failing to follow the Code would not be an offence in itself, but an employer will need to demonstrate that equally effective methods have been adopted to signal compliance with the law.

In the light of the code, employers should determine what is the most reasonably practical way of controlling environmental tobacco smoke. That will necessitate a number of responses: perhaps banning smoking in the workplace, either completely or partially; perhaps enabling the physical segregation of non smokers from tobacco smoke, providing adequate ventilation, or perhaps implementing a system of work that reduces the time an employee is exposed to environmental tobacco smoke.

Should a complete or partial ban not be viable, perhaps because there is a common area where clients or customers have been given leave to choose to smoke, employers should take one or more measures. They may physically segregate employees from environmental tobacco smoke for example. Where that is not reasonably practical they should ensure that the workplace is adequately ventilated. Where that is not practically achievable they should implement a system of work
that ensures that employee exposure to environmental tobacco smoke is reduced.

The Code would be issued under the provisions of the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974. The Commissioners' recommendation for the introduction of an ACOP will now be relayed to Ministers for a final decision.


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