Employers are being urged to plan ahead for next summer’s smoking ban after research revealed unsuspecting bosses could be walking into a legal minefield.
Croner research conducted earlier this year showed that up to a quarter of businesses misunderstood the basic intentions of the Health Bill, leaving them liable for prosecution when the Bill becomes law.
Current provisions under the Health Bill include:
- Banning smoking in all enclosed or substantially enclosed work premises – this is defined as meaning premises with a ceiling unless more than 50 per cent of the wall area is open to outside.
- Company cars are considered entirely non-smoking if they might be used by more than one person, unless it is a convertible car and the roof is open.
- All occupiers of premises must display a prominent ‘no smoking’ sign, this should be at least A5 size.
- An employer who fails to display a prominent no smoking sign is subject to a fixed penalty of £200 (discounted to £150 if paid within 15 days.)
- An employee (or visitor) who is caught smoking is subject to a fixed penalty of £50 (discounted to £30 if paid within 15 days.)
- An employer who fails to take reasonable steps to prevent smoking – simply displaying the no smoking sign is not enough – is liable to a fine of up to £2,500.
Nasar Farooq, health & safety technical manager at Croner, believes that whilst the regulations will not be confirmed until October 2006, when the consultation period closes, employers should start planning now for its various implications.
He says: “At this point we know that a blanket ban on smoking in the vast majority of enclosed workplaces will be introduced next summer and although the detail has yet to be confirmed, employers needn’t wait for the consultation period to end before starting to plan how to manage it.
“For example, company cars have been designated as workplaces in the guidelines, and although we don’t know if they will definitely fall under the ban, employers should be considering how they will enforce this now, rather than later.
“Companies wanting to take a ‘belt and braces’ approach to the ban could actively ban smoking from their company cars. If it is only used by a smoker, they might have the latitude to continue to allow the driver to smoke in it, but if it could potentially be used by a non-smoker at any point, the issue becomes unclear, and a blanket ban becomes the simplest option.”
The new legislation will cover all public spaces and workplaces with very few exceptions, and Nasar Farooq is urging employers to prepare for it as seriously as they would for any other new employment law.
He continues: “Employers should be consulting with their workforce over exactly what the smoking ban will mean to them, how behaviours need to change and what the consequences could be for all parties if they don’t.
“Agreed policies and procedures should be put into place and carefully monitored in advance of the ban, so that any issues can be worked out before it’s implemented. If the employers decide to recruit smokers, they should be informed of the smoking ban in advance to minimise the likelihood of any transgressions in the future.
“Looking positively, now would also be an excellent time for employers to be reviewing the help they make available to their staff who want to quit smoking, from information leaflets and nicotine patches right through to medical interventions.
“It will take time for new workplace smoking policies to be shaped, implemented and fully understood, so employers have no need to panic, but by acting sooner rather than later, they can get ahead of the legislation and ensure they’re on top of every part of it when it finally comes into force.”