Yesterday, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed a bill that will ban smoking in almost all workplaces throughout the state effective January 1, 2008. With the bill, Illinois joins 16 states that have already made smoking illegal in the workplace.
Non-smokers hail this as a seminal event for the health and well-being of workers, while smokers see it as a further erosion of their first amendment right to “the pursuit of happiness.” The law is aimed at preventing employees from being exposed to second-hand smoke at work.
Under current Illinois law, smoking is legal in factories, warehouses and similar places of employment that are not usually open to the public. Smoking is currently acceptable in casinos, bars and private clubs. Also under the current regulations, a group or individual can rent a private room in a banquet hall or restaurant and permit smoking. Under the new law, all of that will change in January. The law will specifically ban smoking sections of bars and restaurants. It also closes a loop-hole that permitted smoking in private homes where a day-care center is operated.
The new law will NOT ban smoking in private, enclosed offices where all the workers smoke, even if non-smokers must visit the offices on occasion. Critics point to this as a major flaw in the law. The law also permits smoking in retail stores that derive at least 80% of their revenue from the sale of tobacco products. Smoking will still be permitted in enclosed personal spaces, such as private homes and personal vehicles, and in specifically designated hotel rooms.
Critics also argue that the penalties under the new law are too low, with fines of $100 to $250 to individuals for violations. Fines for businesses that violate the law start at $250.
An important feature of the new law prohibits smoking within 15 feet of any entrance or exit door in the workplace. The current Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act contains no such provision. The sight of workers braving sub-zero winter temperatures to smoke outside the door of an office or shop is very common. Workers and customers must frequently walk through a cloud of smoke blanketing the entrance, to gain access to a restaurant, store or office under the current system.
Under the Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act, smoking has been banned in most public places in the state for a number of years. That includes smoking in any indoor area used by the public, or as a place of work, including hospitals, restaurants, retail stores, offices, elevators, theaters, libraries, art museums, concert halls, schools, nursing homes, auditoriums and meeting rooms. The current law provides for smokers to be fined up to $500 for a first offense. Anyone who persists may be found in contempt of court and imprisoned for a short time, as well as fined.
The current Illinois Clean Indoor Air Act does allow for smoking in areas that are specifically posted as “smoking areas” including some areas of restaurants, bars and nursing homes. The act originally made exceptions for a number of businesses, including bowling allies, and bars. All of these areas will become off limits to smokers under the new law.
A number of counties and municipalities already have laws that prohibit smoking. Cook County, the home of Chicago and 43.3% of the state’s population, bans smoking everywhere except designated rooms in hotels and nursing homes. The county does permit municipalities to “opt out” by allowing smoking in designated sections of restaurants and bars in Rosemont and a few other areas. Other Illinois cities outside Cook County, including Normal, Illinois have banned smoking in all workplaces, even restaurants and bars.
States that currently have 100% smoking bans in workplaces include Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Washington. These states prohibit smoking in public and private workplaces regardless of size. They do not allow smoking in separately ventilated rooms in offices, factories or warehouses. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico also has such a law. South Dakota has a similar law, but does permit smoking sections in restaurants or bars.
In addition, at least 340 municipalities nationwide ban smoking in the workplace, from Anchorage, Alaska to Laramie, Wyoming. Some of these bans permit smoking in separate sections of restaurants and bars, while most do not.
Safety in the workplace is important, and the Illinois worker safety statistics may prove surprising to employers and employees alike. A total of 255,750 people fell over at work, and in 2005 there were 270,890 painful back injuries. Just over half a million workers sustained tears, strains or sprains.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA oversees workplace safety in Illinois. At the heart of any good safety in the workplace program must be education. Workers should be regularly reminded of the proper safety techniques that need to be employed. The OSHA Workplace Safety Pack is a valuable tool for this purpose. The pack has information on workplace ergonomics, a lifting safety poster, a workstation safety tips poster and a Slips, Trips and Falls poster. All these are providing easily understood information for workers on how to prevent injuries.
Employee injuries and be expensive. They will almost certainly need to take time off work, and this can be expensive for the employer, who may have to take on temporary staff, and for the worker who will suffer from the loss of wages. Added to this there may be medical bills and law suits.
The statistics for the year 2005, which is the last full year that has figures available make for grim reading. There were 4,214,200 accidents relating to work nationwide, and these meant 1,234,700 lost working days. Tragically, 5,702 employees died during the year due to fatal work related accidents.
These numbers only related to accidents for workers in the private sector. The high figure does not include worker accidents for employees involving firefighters, paramedics, police and other non-profit or government organizations.
Workplace related incidents account for one of the most common causes of death in the workplace. Only accidents involving vehicles account for more, where the number of work related deaths is 1,258.
With such statistics worker safety education should be paramount in any workplace.
You, as a Illinois employer, most likely have plans in place for natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. You’ve probably thought about what to do in case of a fire or an extended power outage. But you may have forgotten to have plans in place when it comes to the dangerous disease known as influenza. It is demanded by the OSHA that this should be considered.
A contemporary Illinois OSHA alert announces a global disease outbreak, or a potential flu pandemic. Influenza pandemics come about when there is a new strain of the virus. No one is immune to this new strain. Therefore, it spreads from person to person around the globe.
Suppose you don’t know what to expect during a pandemic. Well, you can expect employee absenteeism to go through the roof. Supply chains may be disrupted, so normal deliveries of products won’t take place. There will also most likely be changes in patterns of commerce. Grocery stores will be hectic as consumers will be in need of supplies. Things like hand sanitizer and tissues may sell out quickly. Healthcare facilities may become jammed. However, other businesses may experience an abrupt decline. Shopping centers, restaurants and movie theaters, and other public places will likely be just about empty. These are wise precautions, as influenza spreads all over the place.
According to OSHA, an influenza pandemic could interrupt the global economy. It would affect trade, travel, tourism, the food supply, and consumer buying. Eventually, that would create waves in the investment and financial markets. The effect would be more treacherous than any single terrorist attack.
Don’t worry; currently there is no new strain of influenza. Therefore there is no pandemic. However, OSHA recommends that every employer should be prepared. According to OSHA, “As with any catastrophe, having a contingency plan is essential.”