BUSINESSES should consider updating their rules on smoking and decide whether to ban staff from using electronic cigarettes in the workplace, according to a Yorkshire lawyer.
Ian Dawson, partner and head of employment at Leeds law firm Shulmans, said many companies were “naive” about how to tackle the use of e-cigarettes among employees.
The electronic devices are currently exempt from the indoor smoking ban but while some organisations, including Barnsley Council, have banned their use, others have not formally clarified their position, leading to uncertainty among staff.
“A lot of businesses will have policies which cover smoking restrictions but they don’t go as far as e-cigarettes. There is a little bit of naivety out there,” said Mr Dawson.
Health and safety is one of the most important areas to consider.
Mr Dawson pointed to a number of recent cases of exploding chargers. Firefighters in Kirklees recently issued a warning after an e-cigarette exploded while it was being re-charged. No one was injured but red hot flying fragments left scorch marks on walls, floors and a sofa.
Meanwhile, an incident in Derbyshire last October resulted in a fatality after components from different e-cigarettes were used together along with an incorrectly rated charger.
Mr Dawson said: “Chargers have caused explosions because they haven’t been suitable for the cigarette or have failed within the device.”
He believes health and safety issues around e-cigarettes could become more prominent following the results of current testing, leading some staff to challenge their employers.
“In the future, employees may be able to argue that smoking an e-cigarette in the workplace is necessary as it is a prescribed medicine,” he said. “Businesses need to look at their policies and procedures so they can pre-empt and stop challenges in the future.”
Businesses which decide to ban the smoking of e-cigarettes also need to consider where those lighting up will go for a break.
“If you are preventing employees from smoking e-cigarettes in the workplace, you can’t assume they want to be in the same place as tobacco smokers,” Mr Dawson said.
“Most of those people are trying to give up smoking.”