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Warning: Smoking could seriously harm your company's wealth

Date: 18 June 2007

The ban starts 1 July

Come 1 July smoking in the workplace will be banned in England. John Mahoney lists the 10 steps you should take to comply with the new legislation

It's funny how the threat of million pound lawsuits can sharply focus corporate and Government minds.

After decades of medical evidence and eight years since the tobacco industry itself - in the shape of multinational firm Philip Morris - admitted "overwhelming medical and scientific consensus" that smoking causes fatal diseases, measures are finally being pushed through to limit the potential damage to health done by smoking.

Failure to implement these measures could be costly. Why? Rewind a little to May last year when one of the world's most influential health experts, the US Surgeon General, issued the first study on secondhand smoke in 20 years. The results were predictable. "The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are more pervasive than we previously thought. The scientific evidence is now indisputable: secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and non-smoking adults."

In one statement the Surgeon General had opened the floodgates for staff to potentially sue employers for failing to provide a safe working environment. It also meant governments had to act with legislation, and since it has been confirmed that cars come under the ambit of a workplace, it is vitally important fleet operators comply now - or risk litigation, or fines, later.

To ensure your firm fulfils its new duty of care obligation, BusinessCar advises you take the following 10 steps.

1. Get ready for 1 July

Bans are already in force in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (with both employees and employers facing fines of up to £2000 for non-compliance). If you don't know already, England joins them 1 July. So if you haven't started yet, you still have time to make your company compliant, though that precious commodity is running short.

2. Say who's responsible

Both the smokers themselves and the people who manage and control vehicles could face fines. In the case of a vehicle, that could mean the smoker in the passenger seat, the non-smoking driver and the fleet manager responsible for the car. As the law is new and yet to be tested, it's better to play it safe and make sure everyone - smokers and non-smokers, employers and employees - are aware of their responsibility.

3. Put up signs.

By law, no smoking signs must be displayed in a visible position in every vehicle affected by the legislation, with the duty resting on the employer's shoulders.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland signs in vehicles must be at least 70mm in diameter and visible from "all compartments". The industry consensus is that only vehicles with a fixed bulkhead count as having separate compartments - such as a taxi. Whatever the type of vehicle, stickering somewhere visible, for example the dash or back of a tax disc, should be sufficient.

4 .and put them in the right vehicles!

The following vehicles require signs:

. Company vehicles that are enclosed (although convertibles with the hood dropped are excluded).

. Company vehicles used by more than one employee.

. Any company vehicle used by a member of the public - taxis fall under the law.

. Company-funded cars, pool cars and even private vehicles used on business with more than one person on board.

The following vehicles are exempt:

. Private vehicles used for commuting to and from work, although the law lacks clarification on occasionally carrying work colleagues.

. Perk cars - cash for cars where the vehicle is used solely by employees for personal activities.