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Health Unit clearing the air about smoke-free workplaces

SIMCOE, NOVEMBER 23, 2012- Despite a six-year-old ban on smoking in Ontario workplaces, some local employees are still being exposed to second-hand smoke at work. As a result, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is reminding local business owners about their legal responsibility to ensure their workplaces are smoke-free.

“We are certainly proud of the efforts in our business community to protect employees and customers from second-hand smoke, but there is still some work to be done,” noted Amy Jones, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s Tobacco Control Officer. “The timing of the reminder is no coincidence, as the temptation to smoke indoors can increase as the weather gets colder outside.”

Since May 31st, 2006 the Smoke-Free Ontario Act (SFOA) has required workplaces to be smoke-free. However, some businesses appear unaware that this also applies to vehicles that are driven for work, such as a backhoe, delivery truck or a taxi.

Most local large- and medium-sized workplaces understand and follow the SFOA, but some smaller businesses in the area have been found to be in violation of the law, say Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit tobacco control staff.

“The majority of the smoking-at-work complaints we receive involve smaller factories, garages, delivery trucks and family-owned businesses,” said Jones. “It’s important to note that a smoke-free workplace is the law and applies to every organization, big or small.”

The SFOA bans smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces, including private offices, washrooms, garages, fleet vehicles and other work vehicles. Fines for smoking in a workplace vehicle range from $305 to $5000, while fines for employers who do not ensure workplaces and work vehicles are smoke-free range from $365 to $300,000. Employers are also reminded that they cannot dismiss, suspend or discipline workers who try to point out their right to work in a smoke-free environment.

Smoking is prohibited in workplace vehicles 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the same way smoking is prohibited inside an office building. Smoking in a workplace vehicle is also prohibited after working hours, regardless if there are passengers in the vehicle.

“Employers need to understand that they are liable for employees’ actions, and allowing a person to smoke in an enclosed workplace, including a vehicle, can cost you $365 or more,” added Jones.

While sending reminders to those businesses who are not complying with the law, the Health Unit is also applauding the many agencies, community partners, and workplaces that have taken positive measures to create smoke-free environments.

“A number of local workplaces are healthier and more productive places to work and do business because of the SFOA and their own additional tobacco-free policies,” noted Jennifer Dahl, Workplace Health Promoter at the Health Unit. “Tobacco-free workplace policies not only protect co-workers and customers from second-hand smoke, but they encourage tobacco users to quit or reduce their tobacco consumption.”

Employers that encourage staff to become or remain tobacco-free also realize a financial benefit from their efforts beyond the obvious gains in employee health. Employees who use tobacco are at an increased risk for future illness and disability, are absent longer when sick, and cost an employer lost productivity time during cigarette-breaks. Smoke-free businesses will also improve their corporate image and may be able to lower their disability and fire insurance premiums. Adding up all of the related costs, it is estimated that one employee who smokes can cost a business an extra $3,300 per year compared to a non-smoker.

Employers are encouraged to contact the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit at 519-426-6170 to request free no-smoking signage for workplaces or vehicles, or to access the workplace resources related to smoking prevention and cessation.

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Media contact:
Amy Jones
Tobacco Enforcement Officer
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3202 at either 519-426-6170 or 905-318-6623
amy.jones@hnhu.org