A total smoking ban comes into force in England next summer, but many companies are not aware of just how far-reaching the new laws will be, warns David Vine

Smoking will be completely banned next year in the vast majority of public spaces and workplaces. However one quarter of employers are unaware of the implications being enforced under the 2007 Health Bill - one of these being the mandatory outlawing of any existing smoking areas at work.

New research by health and safety company Croner reveals widespread confusion among employers over next summer's smoking ban in England. Findings revealed that 72% of those questioned thought their organisation was already compliant with the forthcoming law. Yet 48% said that they currently provided smoking areas for employees, leaving almost half of employers believing they are compliant, when in actual fact they are not.

More positive results showed that the great majority (95%) of respondents said that they were at least aware of the new law, even though many appeared to be unclear of the requirements. The new smoking ban law will cover all work quarters/environments and public areas, with very few exceptions consisting of private homes, residential care homes, hotel rooms, prisons and hospitals.

Currently there is no specific legal requirement to ban or restrict smoking in the workplace. However, smoking is prohibited under some industry-specific legislation for safety reasons. There is also an implied duty to control passive smoking at work under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

While most have some sort of smoking policy in place, this does not mean that they are ready for the forthcoming ban. Those who think they are already compliant should check that they are in reality enforcing a complete ban that means the removal of smoking areas for employees.

Smokers who currently take cigarette breaks outside the entrance to their workplace could find that even this unenclosed space is soon covered by a smoking ban, and then presumably decisions will need to be made on where smokers can stand, and whether ash trays or other disposal units will need to be provided in these areas.

One city council found that smoking related debris make up as much as 40% of their litter, and have distributed small pouches made of heat-resistant plastic for people to keep in pockets or handbags. This may be an option for companies when the full ban of smoking areas at work comes into effect.

Smoking in vehicles
Another key part of the new regulations that many people are unaware of is that when referring to the prohibition of smoking in certain premises and places, vehicles are also included. A good example for the effecting legislation in this context would be lorry drivers no longer being able to smoke in their cabs. Taxi companies will also need to ensure all of their drivers that smoke adhere to the new regulations, as any working environment where members of the public will be using services need to be smoke-free.

The bill is wide-ranging and covers the finer details of how the smoke-free legislation will be implemented and enforced. Signage requirements for smoke-free establishments is another area that has been discussed, and when implemented it will be important to bear in mind that it will be the duty of any person involved in the management of a company to ensure no smoking signs are displayed accordingly.

It is predicted that an estimated 600,000 people will give up smoking as a result of the law change. However, there are many that think otherwise, believing that when the ban comes in, people will move into the street, smoke more at home, and it could end up being counter-productive.

That is why businesses need to be aware of the implications of the law and consequences should they fail to adhere. Under the new law, employers that fail to stop people smoking in banned areas will attract penalties of up to £2,500 - an increase from the initial £200.

The government envisions the increased fine levels will result in better compliance with smoke-free legislation, that will in turn make enforcement easier.

Success story
Recent data from Scotland shows how popular smoke-free public places and work areas are in practice — with three quarters of people saying the ban has been successful. Of 15,540 premises visited by enforcement officers over 99% of these were complying with the smoke-free legislation since it was introduced on 26 March 2006.

It is broadly acknowledged that changing and implementing a smoking policy, as with any change, takes time in terms of devising it, making employees aware of it and training people to enforce it. Even though there is no current legal requirement to do so, brokers should be advising their clients to ensure they are aware of the requirements of the new law, and start making changes now to help make the transition to being a smoke-free enterprise as easy and smooth as possible.

Brokers and insurers alike should act now to clarify these changes and help prevent further confusion so that employers can avoid being caught out, and assist in the improvement in the health of their employees.

The government is working closely with stakeholders to draft the regulations and continue to listen to the opinions of the public, stakeholders and the commercial sector in the countdown to going smoke-free next summer.

While many will not agree on all the points of detail, the draft regulations provide an excellent framework for ensuring that all workplaces become smoke-free, with maximum compliance and minimum difficulty.

It is hoped that employers whose workplaces are not yet smoke-free will not wait until next summer before banning smoking. Employers should be working with unions and staff over the coming months to make sure that a smoke-free environment is introduced gradually with the full support and involvement of the workforce.

Any employer unsure over their requirements under the new legislation, or if their organisation is exempt, should seek expert advice from their relevant professional body or authority. IT

' David Vine is a business development manager at Allianz Cornhill