A report commissioned by the Office of Tobacco Control and the Health and Safety Authority on the health effects of environmental tobacco smoke in the workplace was published in January 2003. This report was prepared by an independent scientific working group. The conclusions of the expert group are quite blunt on the risks to health from environmental tobacco smoke. Environmental tobacco smoke is a cause of cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems. Employees need to be protected from exposure at work. Current ventilation technology is ineffective at removing the risk to health. Legislative measures are required to protect workers from the adverse effects of exposure.
A draft of regulations to prohibit smoking in the workplace was notified to the Commission in April 2003, and during the three-month standstill period, which allows member states to voice opinions on the measure, no objections or reservations were put forward. The Commission was notified of two amendments to the draft regulations in November 2003 to allow for exemptions for prisons and outdoor work areas and for psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, certain charitable institutions and sleeping accommodation in hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfast accommodation. As a result of these amendments, it was necessary to change the commencement date for the introduction of the ban. The standstill period for the amendments notified will end on 4 February and 16 February 2004.
Surveys carried out by the Office of Tobacco Control show widespread support for smoke-free workplaces, and the trade union movement is strongly in favour of the measure.
The owner, manager or person in charge of a workplace is legally responsible for ensuring compliance with health and safety requirements, including the prohibition on smoking in the workplace. As part of the process of monitoring compliance with the smoke-free workplace requirement, authorised officers from the health boards and the Office of Tobacco Control will visit premises. I expect that the vast majority of employers, employees and the public will respect the new measures which are primarily to protect people from exposure to toxic environmental tobacco smoke. I will make a decision on the new date for commencement of the smoke-free workplace regulations in the near future.