Jog Hundle and Rebecca Harker look at the final preparations employers should be considering before the ban takes effect on 1 July

Background

The smoking ban has been driven by the increasing evidence of the harmful effects of second-hand smoking, as well as the Government’s commitment to cut general smoking rates. Based on research published in 2004, it was estimated that 51 per cent of people worked in a smokefree environment, with a further 37 per cent of workplaces having some smoking restrictions. Despite that, it is thought that over 500 people in the UK die prematurely each year because of passive smoking in the workplace. As well as saving these lives, the Government calculated that a total ban in public places and workplaces could lead to a 1.7 per cent reduction in overall smoking rates, saving the NHS about £100 million a year because of the reduction in smoking-related illnesses it has to treat.

There has been smoke-free legislation in Ireland since 2004. The ban in Scotland took effect in March 2006. Wales and Northern Ireland follow on different dates in April 2007, with the English ban being implemented on 1 July 2007. It is the legislation that will apply in England that is described in the rest of this article.

The extent of the ban

As well as prohibiting smoking in almost all enclosed public spaces (including transport) the ban extends to all enclosed workplaces. Designated smoking rooms will not be allowed in the workplace (subject to some exceptions for residential accommodation) though workers will still be allowed to smoke outside. Employers will also be allowed to provide limited shelter to those who wish to smoke, provided that at least 50 per cent of the wall area is permanently open to the elements.

Company vehicles will also be covered by the ban. The plan is that all company vehicles will be covered unless they are only ever used by one worker, or, less likely still, the vehicle has no roof. The final regulations detailing these exemptions should be published shortly.

Employer’s responsibilities

Individual workers will commit an offence if they do not comply with the ban. Employers will also be responsible for preventing smoking in the workplace, and for ensuring that the correct signage is displayed. They face a fine if they do not do this, but will have a defence if they can show they took reasonable steps to prevent workers smoking. The local authority will normally be responsible for enforcement of these duties, and will be able to issue fixed penalty notices to both employers and employees.

Next steps for employers

Employers should:

  • review their existing policies and practices to identify what needs to be changed;
  • consult the workforce over any necessary changes and then implement them;
  • inform all members of staff about the changes, and give managers the necessary training; and
  • ensure that the appropriate no smoking signage is displayed and obeyed. This might also be the time to address the vexed question of whether workers should be allowed to take cigarette breaks in the employer’s time. Many workers were allowed this as a concession when nonsmoking workplaces were first introduced on a voluntary basis, but the introduction of a legal ban could present an opportunity to negotiate changing or limiting this practice.