Ask the panel

June 29, 2007

WORRIED ABOUT YOUR EMPLOYMENT, MATERNITY, PENSION RIGHTS? SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO THE TIMES HIGHER ADVICE PANEL.

'What changes on smoking at work must employers introduce on July 1 that will affect staff, students and visitors?'

* A spokesperson for the University and College Union says: "The aim of the new 'smoke-free' legislation is to protect all people in virtually all enclosed public and work places and vehicles from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke while not denying an individual's choice to smoke elsewhere.

"Under the Health Act 2006, employers will have to a) display approved 'no-smoking' signs in smoke-free premises and vehicles; b) take reasonable steps to ensure that staff, customers/members and visitors are aware that premises and vehicles are legally required to be smoke-free; c) remove any existing indoor smoking rooms and d) ensure that no one smokes in smoke-free premises or vehicles.

"It will be an offence for all employees, staff, students and visitors to smoke in smoke-free premises or vehicles, and for those who manage the premises or vehicles to fail to prevent smoking in them or to display the required no-smoking signs.

"Trade unions are pressing employers to demonstrate a positive commitment to health promotion by introducing support programmes for staff who want to stop smoking. For those who cannot or choose not to stop, employers may also make provision for people to smoke outside enclosed buildings, in designated areas or shelters. Such provisions may require quitters to take time off, or lead to the employer deciding when smokers may take a break to use the facility. A joint working group should be established to co-ordinate such activities, agree resource allocation where necessary, and ensure that the interests of both smokers and non-smokers are considered equally. The TUC givesuseful advice to trade unions at www.tuc.org.uk/h_and_s/tuc-122-f0.pdf.

"For educational institutions, the new law will be enforced by the local authority. Failure to comply will result in fines ranging from £50 for smoking in smoke-free premises, £200 for failing to display approved signs, and up to £2,500 for failing to prevent smoking in smoke-free premises or vehicles."

* A spokesperson for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association says: "The rules regarding smoking should apply to all staff at all levels, students and third parties (for example, contractors and visitors), without exception, and all staff should be made aware of the policy. Protective measures should be put in place for staff who work in places where smoking is allowed, for example cleaners or maintenance staff working in students' study bedrooms.

"Although there is no legal obligation for employers to provide facilities for smokers, institutions should consider whether to provide external areas where smoking is allowed, to ensure that staff and students do not smoke in areas that may present a security risk (for example in isolated areas) or where the public perception of the institution may be affected. Information about such arrangements should be made readily available.

"Consideration will need to be given to whether to allow staff to take smoking breaks during the working day, bearing in mind that non-smokers may feel it is unfair if smokers are permitted more breaks.

"Ways of promoting a healthy workplace should be explored; in particular, whether any additional support could be offered to staff to help them to stop smoking, for example through the institution's occupational health services.

"Institutions will need to decide how non-observance of the policy will be dealt with. Disciplinary procedures should be reviewed to ensure that they cover any breach of the policy, and staff should be made aware that smoking at work is a disciplinary offence."

See www.smokefreeengland.co.uk

* A pro vice-chancellor writes: "Each university is bringing in its own regulations to comply with the law. However, some will not impose a blanket ban on smoking out of doors on a campus because a) if students live on site then the university is also their home for the period of their studies and b) a very high percentage of smokers are international students from countries where a ban on smoking would be risible."

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