Information on environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) in the workplace

What is Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS)?

ETS is smoke from burning tobacco products that is present in the general environment and which people can inhale. It is sometimes called second-hand smoke (SHS). 

ETS is a complex mixture of particles, vapours and gases. Over 4000 compounds have been identified in ETS. Sixty of these are known to be carcinogenic.

Examples of toxic chemicals in ETS include:

  • carbon monoxide; 
  • nicotine;  
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons;  
  • hydrogen cyanide;  
  • pesticides;  
  • toxic metals; and  
  • radioactive substances.

Health effects of ETS

Research shows that ETS may cause a range of adverse health effects. Some of these are:

  • increased risk of lung cancer (classified as Group 1, Carcinogenic to Humans, by the International Agency for Research on Cancer); 
  • increased risk of heart disease and stroke;  
  • upper/lower respiratory tract irritation;  
  • eye irritation;  
  • coughing;  
  • headaches; and 
  • increased respiratory problems in asthmatics.

As ETS is a complex chemical mixture it has no occupational exposure standard. This makes ETS different from many other chemicals in the workplace. It also makes it more difficult to establish appropriate controls.


The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (the OSH Act)

The OSH Act (Section 19(1)) requires employers to, so far as practicable, provide and maintain a working environment in which employees are not exposed to hazards.  As ETS is known to be a health hazard, an employer must reduce ETS risks at the workplace so far as practicable. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 (the OSH regulations) 

The OSH regulations (regulation 3.44B) prohibit employers, employees and self-employed people smoking in enclosed workplaces. 

A workplace is an ‘enclosed workplace’ if it has a ceiling or roof and is greater than 50% enclosed by walls, or other vertical structures or coverings. Note: If a workplace does not have a roof or ceiling then it is not an enclosed workplace.

A vehicle meets the definition of an enclosed workplace. Smoking is only permitted if the vehicle is supplied by the person smoking and no other person who is an employee of the same employer is present.

A person may smoke in their own residence while working as long as no co-workers or employees of the person are present. 

The OSH regulations require a person who is an employer or a person having control of an enclosed workplace to display a notice or sign to people working in the workplace that smoking by workers is prohibited in the workplace. ‘No smoking’ stickers are available free of charge from the Department of Health.   

The Tobacco Products Control Act and Regulations 2006  

Where the workplace is an ‘enclosed public place’, smoking is also regulated by the Tobacco Products Control Regulations 2006 made under the Tobacco Products Control Act 2006 The Department of Health is responsible for the administration of this legislation and environmental health officers attached to local councils undertake enforcement activities.

Smoking is prohibited in all enclosed public places. The only exception is the Crown Casino’s International Room. These regulations apply to smoking by all people, including visitors and patrons, in all enclosed public places, including pubs, nightclubs, shopping centres, indoor sporting venues, food halls and restaurants.

Resources available on this subject

  • NOHSC guidance note on the elimination of environmental tobacco smoke 
  • Tobacco Control Branch of the Department of Health
  • Supporting smoke-free workplaces – a policy implementation guide (PDF 510KB) has been designed by the Department of Health to assist in the development and implementation of a smoke-free workplace policy that complements legislative bans in enclosed workplaces and extends to all outdoor workplaces. The guide provides information on the health effects of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, current smoke-free legislation and the steps that must be taken in order to meet the legal requirements. The document also details the ways in which organisations can help to encourage and support smoking cessation. It offers a step-by-step guide to the policy planning and decision making process and provides a sample smoke-free workplace policy.

Share this page:

Last modified: