by Marc Long, senior associate, clarke willmott It is perhaps a little difficult for some of us t...
by Marc Long, senior associate, clarke willmott
It is perhaps a little difficult for some of us to imagine what it is like to work in a smoke-filled office, given that many premises have been non-smoking for a number of years. However, it remains the case that many employers still allow smoking and their workers suffer effects on their health.
The Health Act 2006 is set to change all this. From 6am on 1 July 2007 it will be against the law to smoke in virtually all enclosed public places and work environments. The ban will include offices, factories, shops, pubs, bars and restaurants, as well as members clubs. Smoking will also be prohibited on public transport and vehicles used for work by more than one person.
It is the Government's clear intention to shift the balance significantly in favour of smoke-free environment. As a result, all businesses will be required to display no-smoking signs at each public entrance to their premises. The sign must state: "No Smoking. It is against the law to smoke in the premises."
Employers that currently allow smoking at work will need to give immediate consideration to the implementation of a no-smoking policy.
It needs to be recognised that some employees will find it extremely hard to change their habits. If anyone has ever come across a long-term smoker trying to give up they will know that person can become irritable and even aggressive if they cannot get their nicotine fix. Accordingly, employers should make sure employees are consulted in good time before the Act comes into force; some employers will go the extra mile and offer support to employees to encourage them to stop smoking all together.
As a concession to those staff that will be unable to give up, the law allows for the creation of a 'smoking shelter' provided that this is outside of the business premises. However, employers wishing to build such a shelter will need to be aware that the law expects the shelter to meet certain requirements in its construction.
If an employee thinks that by using a company vehicle they may be able to have a crafty cigarette then they are going to be disappointed. The new legislation also applies to company vehicles that are shared for work by more than one person, even if the workers do so at different times and only intermittently. Such vehicles will also need to display a no smoking sign.
The Health Act does allow for certain exemptions. The most obvious one is that smoking is still allowed within private accommodation. This might be particularly relevant to landlords of public houses who actually live within premises. Care homes and hotels may also have designated rooms for smoking. In these cases a sign must be displayed at the entrance to the premises that states smoking is permitted but only in a designated area.
Private vehicles and vehicles that are for the sole use of the driver and are not used by anyone else will also be exempt.
The Government's approach to the introduction of this legislation is said to be non-confrontational and focused on raising awareness and understanding. Nonetheless, enforcement is an issue and inspections may take place at the behest of the county and district councils.
In terms of penalties, businesses can expect a fixed penalty notice of £200 for failure to display a no-smoking sign. For individuals caught smoking in a smoke-free environment the penalty will be £50. These fines can be reduced if an early payment is made.
At the time of writing, the regulations supplementing the Health Act 2006 are in their draft form and it remains to be seen whether any further amendments will be made to the law prior to the provisions coming into force.
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