The Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC) is warning plumbing and heating companies that they could face a risk of litigation following the introduction of new smoking legislation if their employees have to work in the homes of customers who smoke.
APHC is also asking both employees and employers to take a common sense approach when dealing with customers who are smokers. The legal position under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places an obligation on the employer to protect the health and safety of its employees whilst carrying out their daily work. As a result of the recently introduced Smoking Ban, employees have a greater awareness of the risk of passive smoking and as a result could take action against their employer for not taking reasonable steps to protect their well-being.
As a result, possible exposure to customers smoke in a dwelling could lead to problems. Plumbing and heating employers need to take special steps up to and including asking their clients not to smoke for a significant period prior to works starting. This has the potential to alienate customers and employees who will face the customers anger. While this may be law in England, it is unlikely to be well-received by customers or contractors that have a duty of care to their employees. Clive Dickin, CEO of APHC, comments: "Contractors entering an occupied dwelling may face a smoker who has the right to smoke in their own home.
Unfortunately for the contractors employer, they are advised to ask their customer not to smoke prior to the contractor arriving. This means employers could now have to choose between either losing valuable business or facing possible litigation by the employee for not protecting them from a medically proven health risk. "While we hope most customers would not smoke near a contractor out of respect for their safety as well as out of courtesy we recognise that some customers will be angry at being asked not to smoke in their own homes.
This is a situation that needs careful handling and APHC has produced a guidance document for its members to help deal with the situation." Helen Hughes, personnel law solicitor for Shakespeare Putsman, comments: "Since the introduction of the smoking ban, there is now an increased risk to employers of an employee bringing claims for not protecting them from customers smoke, such as constructive dismissal claims in tribunals.
Management control systems are essential in protecting the employee and employer and I would encourage plumbing contractors to use the APHC Advice Guide that covers the ban on smoking in the workplace."
The Advice Guide to which Helen Hughes refers has been produced by APHC to help employers avoid costly legal action and minimise disruption to the business. It is available free to members by calling 02476 470626 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.