Smoking and increased levels of sickness absence

Photo by AMagill via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

Photo by AMagill via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

Anyone who has spent time in a working environment will be well aware of the consternation often caused to non-smokers by their smoking colleagues taking smoking breaks throughout the day. Simply taking two extra ten-minute smoking breaks per day would mean the equivalent of almost two hours off per week, which can lead to a considerable loss of productivity, especially when groups of colleagues go for smoking breaks together.

In addition to the disruption to the working day caused by regular smoking breaks, there is also the very real problem of the extent to which smoking causes ill health effects and an increase in sickness absence. Research carried out by the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies (based at The University of Nottingham) found that current smokers are 33% more likely to miss work than non-smokers and were absent for an average of 2.7 extra days per year.

The report, published in the journal Addiction, analysed 29 separate studies conducted between 1960 and 2011 in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Japan, covering more than 71,000 public and private sector workers. Respondents were asked about their current and former smoking habits and the researchers tracked how often they were absent over a period of two years. The study showed that smoking was clearly linked to workers’ short-term absences as well as absences of four weeks or more.

These figures strongly suggest that employers who are dedicated to looking after the health of employees would be well advised to encourage their staff to stop smoking. Since 1 July 2007 it has been illegal to smoke in enclosed workspaces in England so employers are obliged to display ‘no smoking’ signs around the workplace and smoking can only take place outdoors. No worker has the right to other breaks specifically for the purpose of smoking although those who work more than six hours per day are entitled to a statutory rest break of at least twenty minutes (normally in the form of a lunch break) – it is up to employers to adopt a smoking policy in the workplace and ensure that it is adhered to.

For advice on looking after the health of employees (including managing risks in the workplace, developing wellness programmes, carrying out health surveillance, etc.) view the resources on the Health for Work Adviceline website.

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