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 workplace exposure standard. This makes ETS different from many other chemicals in the workplace. It also makes it more difficult to establish appropriate controls.


The Work Health and Safety Act 2020 (WHS Act)

The WHS Act (Section 19(1)) requires persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU, for example an employer) to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers.  As ETS is known to be a health hazard, a PCBU must reduce ETS risks at the workplace so far as reasonably practicable. 

The Work Health and Safety (General) Regulations 2022 and the Work Health and Safety (Mines) Regulations 2022 (‘WHS Regulations’) 

The WHS regulations (regulation 50D) prohibit persons 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 a worker at the same workplace is present.

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

The WHS regulations require a person who is a PCBU or who has management or control of an enclosed workplace to display a notice or sign that smoking is prohibited in the workplace.     

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.

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