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We are calling on the WA government to extend WA’s Work Health and Safety Laws, following a survey that found nearly half of the respondents were still being exposed to tobacco smoke and e-cigarette aerosols in the workplace.

As part of October’s Safe Work Month, our Make Smoking History team surveyed 472 adults who work in a range of industries including mining, construction, healthcare, transport and community services.

Our Make Smoking History Manager, Libby Jardine, said despite new laws to protect WA community health, there still appears to be low adherence to and awareness of the regulations.

“In 2019 the WA government introduced laws to further protect WA community health including smoking no longer being allowed within five metres of a public entrance to an enclosed public place and within 10 metres of air conditioning intakes,” Ms Jardine said.

“However, two in five (42%) of the WA adult employees surveyed reported they were still being exposed to smoke and aerosol drift entering buildings through doorways or windows, in and around entrances and walkways, and common outdoor areas while at work.

“Although WA’s Work Health and Safety laws and regulations prohibit smoking in an enclosed workplace, they don’t cover outdoor workplaces, so this is the gap that we would like to see addressed.”

Second-hand smoke causes coronary heart disease, lung cancer and stroke in non-smokers. Ms Jardine said many employees expressed concern about exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke or e-cigarette aerosols in the workplace, noting that the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use are yet to emerge.

“Employees are being exposed to second-hand smoke and aerosols while working in the mining sector and they find it difficult to avoid exposure at mine camps,” she said.

“Employees working in the healthcare, aged care and community services sectors are being exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke from staff and clients smoking near doorways and entrances.

“Employees in the transport industry noted that they were frequently exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke in outdoor loading areas and near building entrances.

“This is occurring even though the Regulations state that employers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons at an enclosed workplace are not exposed to second-hand smoke or any other tobacco or nicotine by-product.

“While in the past few years the WA government has been focussed on COVID-19, workers’ health continues to be put at risk from tobacco and related products. Governments and policy makers must work to eliminate these harmful exposures in the workplace.

“Everyone should have the chance to make their living free from second-hand smoke and aerosols.”

Survey findings:

  • Two in five WA adult employees (42%) who completed the survey reported that they were exposed to tobacco smoke or e-cigarette aerosols in the workplace.
  • One quarter of employees (24%) said they were occasionally exposed to tobacco smoke in the workplace, while a further 14% were often or always exposed to tobacco smoke at work.
  • One in five employees (19%) said they were occasionally exposed to e-cigarette aerosols in the workplace, while a further 9% were often or always exposed to e-cigarette aerosols at work.

Employees described being exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke and e-cigarette aerosols at work via:

  • Smoke/aerosol drift entering buildings through doorways or windows.
  • Colleagues, clients or customers smoking or using e-cigarettes in common outdoor areas; and
  • People smoking or using e-cigarettes in and around entrances and walkways, meaning that non-smokers were exposed to second-hand smoke and aerosols when entering and exiting buildings.

Employees were asked if they had any thoughts about exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke or e-cigarette aerosols in the workplace.

  • Among employees who commented about tobacco smoke, 47% were concerned about the health effects of passive smoking, describing concerns about cancer, as well as respiratory issues, such as coughing or asthma.
  • Among employees who commented about e-cigarette aerosols, 46% were concerned about the health effects of breathing other people’s e-cigarette aerosols. Respondents expressed concern about the harmful ingredients in e-cigarettes and noted that the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use are yet to emerge.