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1 in 3 Victorians breathe in toxic secondhand smoke at work

Posted 6 Dec, 2017

Employers urged to go smokefree, protect staff

More than one in three Victorian workers are being regularly exposed to deadly secondhand tobacco smoke while doing their job, new survey data from Quit Victoria reveals.

For electricians, plumbers, construction workers and hairdressers, the rate is even higher – almost half (45 per cent) of Victorians in Upper Blue jobsi had been exposed to secondhand smoke in the past week.

Quit Victoria Director Dr Sarah White said it’s incredibly worrying to learn that so many Victorians are having to breathe in toxic chemicals from cigarettes while at work.

“Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke is harmful to our health, so it’s really alarming to see such a high number of Victorians having to regularly inhale the deadly smoke from other people’s cigarettes while going about their work,” Dr White said.

“Secondhand smoke is a known cause of heart disease and lung cancer, and the more often a person is exposed to it the greater their health risk.

“What’s more, smoking costs businesses in lost productivity and absenteeism, as smokers are also 1.4 times more likely to be absent from work than non-smokers. Organisations and employers have so much to gain from going smokefree.”

While the Tobacco Act 1987 (Vic) prohibits smoking in all enclosed workplaces, staff can still be exposed to secondhand smoke in outdoor areas such as on building sites.

The Victorian Smoking and Health Survey of around 4,000 Victorian adults found that in the past week:

  • More than one in three (34%) workers had been exposed to secondhand smoke while indoors or outdoors at work

  • Males were significantly more likely than females (38% vs 30%) to have been exposed to secondhand smoke at work

  • Upper blue collar workers (45%) were significantly more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke at work, compared to upper white collar workers (e.g. managerial and professional roles, 32%), lower white collar workers (e.g. clerks, carers and aides, hospitality workers, 33%) and lower blue collar workers (e.g. transport drivers, labourers and cleaners, 36%)

  • Workers from low socioeconomic (SES) areas (35%) and mid SES areas (36%) were more likely to report past week exposure to secondhand smoke than those from high SES areas (31%)

  • Surprisingly, non-smokers (34%) were no less likely than smokers (36%) to report past week workplace secondhand smoke exposure.

Quit Victoria is calling on employers to take action to help protect their staff from secondhand smoke at work.

“Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, employers have a duty to provide a safe and non-hazardous working environment for staff. With so many of our waking hours spent at work, employers have an obligation to create a safe, smokefree work environment which doesn’t pose a risk to their employees’ health,” Dr White said.

“While helping protect non-smoking staff from secondhand smoke, smokefree policies at workplaces can also help those who have quit or are trying to quit. Smokers trying to quit often have cravings when they’re around others who are smoking, so workplace bans to remove these cues can be really beneficial.”

Quit Victoria has a range of resources for employers and businesses wanting to implement no-smoking policies. For more info, visit the resources section of the Quit Victoria website

About the survey: The Victorian Smoking and Health Survey is a cross-sectional telephone survey of approximately 4,000 randomly sampled Victorians aged 18 years and over conducted in November and December 2016.

Quit Victoria is a partnership between VicHealth, Cancer Council Victoria, the State Government of Victoria and the Heart Foundation.

i Occupations classified as per the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Australian Standard Classification of Occupations, Second Edition. Catalogue No. 1220.0. Canberra, Australia: ABS, 1997.

Media release

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