Keep it legal: Smoke-free workplaces

From 1 July, when regulations made under the Health Act 2006 come into force, charities and voluntary organisations, like all other employers, will have the task of ensuring their premises are kept smoke-free.

All public areas and vehicles must be smoke-free if they have a ceiling or a roof, and if they are at least half enclosed (windows and doors are counted as enclosed walls).

There will be three mandatory obligations on charities: they will have to ensure that no-smoking signs are displayed and remain in place; they will have to take reasonable steps to ensure that staff and visitors are aware their premises and vehicles are smoke-free; and, most importantly, they should ensure that no one smokes in their premises and vehicles.

They will also be required to display an A5 size sign at all entrances. The sign should contain the international no-smoking symbol and the words "no smoking - it is against the law to smoke in these premises". A prominent sign should also be placed in each vehicle compartment. Failure to do so will result in a fine of £200, which could increase to £1,000 and a criminal record if it is not paid.

The duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that people are aware premises are smoke-free will be harder to meet. Charities should put smoke-free policies in place and make it clear that smoking in the workplace may result in disciplinary action. Ensuring that visitors to the premises are familiar with the regulations will be more difficult. Staff and volunteers should be trained to keep an eye out for patrons who attempt to light up and should draw their attention to the smoking ban.

The input of staff, trustees and volunteers will be essential in order for charities to comply with the third requirement. Voluntary organisations will have a defence if they can show that they took all reasonable steps to stop people from smoking or that they did not know, and could not have been expected to know, that people were smoking. Failure to take the reasonable steps will result in a hefty fine of up to £2,500, decided by a court.

With all this in mind, there is certainly plenty to keep voluntary organisations occupied. One thing is for certain: if there is smoke inside after 1 July, there is certainly going to be a fire.

- Jane Kenyon is a solicitor in the third sector team at law firm Clarkslegal.

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