Inconsistent Laws Make it Difficult for Businesses
Inconsistent law on smoking in workplaces and public places is making it difficult for businesses to know how to comply, saysTrish Fraser, director of ASH.
“This is particularly the case with the Smoke-free Environments Act, which allows smoking in some workplaces (such as bars and restaurants) as compared with the Health and Safety in Employment Act, which would see employers eliminate the significant hazard of secondhand smoke.”
She also says that while some legislation is specific in its requirements others are general.
“For example, the Health and Safety in Employment Act does not specifically mention ‘secondhand smoke’, and instead the ‘significant hazard’ is covered in OSH Inspectors’ Manuals, which are not easily accessible to employers, and which may change without any notice or input by the public or Parliament. Although OSH has a statutory duty to advise businesses, there is no evidence that advice is being given on how to deal with secondhand smoke. Thus, inconsistencies with the various laws, a lack of publicly available information and the reluctance by OSH to advise businesses on the significant hazard of secondhand smoke all equate to additional compliance costs for New Zealand businesses.”
She suggests that contrary to popular belief businesses in New Zealand can comply with various laws on smoking by becoming smoke free with little, if any, cost to the business.
“In fact, many businesses are smoke free, but those that are not suffer the burden of compliance costs associated with conforming to (sometimes conflicting) laws and regulations that impose obligations on them for the health and safety of others. Additionally, organisations that do not comply either in part or in full may also be subject to fines themselves.”
Ms Fraser says the benefits for a business of becoming smoke free include reduced potential for litigation by employees and others (clients/consumers/ patrons/members of the public), reduced potential for litigation by government agencies for non-compliance with legislation, office equipment lasting longer, lower risk of fire and possibly lower insurance premiums for fire, life and health, increased productivity from employees, lower work loss days due to sickness and absenteeism, reduction in staff turn-over and less work related injuries.
Less tangible results she has noticed often include an improvement in employee morale as a good, well-implemented smoke free policy can show that the company is concerned about the health and well being of its workers, improved corporate image, increased access to the workplace for people with asthma and for others sensitive to the effects of secondhand smoke, reduced conflict between smokers and non-smokers and employees that smoke consume less in a smoke free environment, and will suffer less harm and may be encouraged to quit.
Several international studies back up her claims. A report from Western Australia showed that in 1992 the tangible social costs of tobacco abuse in Western Australia was $A475.4 million, of which business bore 28%. A Morgan and Banks survey in June 2000 calculated that smokers get an extra two weeks holiday a year, and that the cost to Australian businesses of smoking was estimated at around $2 billion a year.
A study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal stated “non-smokers were absent from work for sickness reasons less often than smokers” and “smokers reporting one pack or more per day had twice the sickness absence of smokers who smoked half a pack or less per day. The results support other studies which show higher relative sickness and absence among smokers than among non-smokers”.
A study in Germany stated costs due to work-loss days and early retirement were 16.4 billion DEM while a study in the USA found that over 14 per cent of lost workdays among men and 3 per cent of those among women were directly linked to smoking. The rate of lost workdays as a result of injury was also higher among smokers, at 7% among men and 54 per cent among women.
In another US study it was found that employees who smoke waste approximately 6% of their time at work with the smoking ritual. A large study of 10,000 non-smoking office workers found that 50% of non-smokers had trouble working near smokers and 36% said they were forced to move away from their designated work stations because of secondhand smoke.
Further studies have found that there also are likely cost savings to employers by implementing smoke-free workplace policies. Such savings include those associated with fire risk, damage to property and furnishings, cleaning costs, workers’ compensation, disability, accidents, life insurance, absenteeism, productivity losses, and occupational risks related to synergism with other risk factors such as asbestos.
There are about 350 deaths caused by second hand smoke (SHS) in New Zealand each year. This represents an additional 8% over and above deaths due to direct smoking and about three quarters the number of people killed on the roads in New Zealand in recent years.
Ms Fraser predicts that as the health effects of inhaling secondhand smoke become more widely know, New Zealand will see an increase in the number of cases before the courts on this issue.
“Given that the majority of New Zealanders are non-smokers, it is only logical that they would want to frequent smoke free facilities and enjoy smoke free workplaces. New Zealand businesses face large compliance costs, particularly small businesses, which are the majority of businesses in this country. By tightening up the legislation and making all laws on this issue consistent, it will save businesses time and money.”