All Employees Deserve to Work in Safe and Healthy Environments

April 28 is World Day for Safety and Health at Work. This is a good time to consider the dangerous work environments that so many people must tolerate every day and key policies that can promptly and easily protect the health of these employees.

Imagine, if you will, a coworker of yours. Or even a family member or close friend who works hard to support a family, and makes smart choices – like living a healthy lifestyle to insure a long and healthy life – eating right, regular exercise and not smoking.

Now imagine this friend goes to work every day – only to be surrounded by secondhand smoke from coworkers.

It’s not easy to make the best choices for your health – whether you’re an average employee or a multi-national company – if you’re in a cloud of smoke. Yet we know this is an everyday reality for 2 billion workers around the globe.

That’s why the Global Smoke-free Worksite Challenge was established in 2011.  This multi-sector initiative is focused on motivating employers to make their worksites smoke-free or completely tobacco free.  We are working hard to limit exposure to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke – and to help smokers quit – so we can all breathe easier. It’s a goal that’s never been so important, because we know tobacco use is poised to kill 1 billion people this century. And many of them don’t even smoke.

There’s simply no such thing as “safe” exposure to secondhand smoke. Tobacco use overall is one of the four main risk factors for chronic diseases like cancer. These diseases will be THE health and development challenge of this century – and are already causing 65 percent of global deaths.

But tobacco use doesn’t just harm employee health – it harms a company’s health, too. We know that everyone benefits when we clear the air of secondhand smoke: workers become healthier … healthier workers miss less work … companies are more productive … and they have lower health care costs.

Chronic diseases also wreak havoc on economies, costing an estimated 2 trillion US dollars in lost productivity each year, and skyrocketing health care costs.

The Global Smoke-free Worksite Challenge is already making a difference in a variety of countries. In Russia, we helped mobilize employers to make their worksites smoke-free, which helped create support and momentum for the passage of the comprehensive national tobacco control law that provides protection from secondhand smoke exposure in all worksites. In China, almost 300 companies have signed a pledge to make their worksites smoke-free and several workshops have been held on making worksites smoke-free.  In Jordan, we are supporting a smoke-free workplace certification pilot program; and in Japan and Brazil, multi-sector partnerships are forming to help build momentum for changing voluntary smoke-free worksite policies and supporting national policies.

Hospitals are an obvious example of facilities that should protect the health of both patients and employees and, thus, there is a global movement to make hospitals and other healthcare facilities smoke-free or completely tobacco free.  This has been done primarily voluntarily, however some countries, such as China, and some states, such as New York, have passed laws requiring that all medical facilities are smoke-free.

The Global Smoke-free Worksite Challenge wants to assist employers in your country as well.  Our free resources (found at www.smokefreeworksites.org) include:

  • Smokefree in a Box, a toolkit that lays out a clear and comprehensive process for planning, implementing and evaluating a smoke-free policy
  • Fact sheets with compelling data on the need for, and benefits of, smoke-free worksites
  • Case studies from countries and companies
  • Relevant articles and publications

We also provide individual consultation between Global Smoke-free Worksite Challenge partner organizations and employers who are interested in establishing smoke-free worksite policies.

Please spread the word about the need for, and benefits of, smoke-free worksites, and let interested individuals or organizations know about what the Global Smoke-free Worksite Challenge can offer to assist them.

About the Author: Karen Gutierrez is the Director of the Global Smoke-free Worksite Challenge.