I am a care worker. How should my employer protect me from passive smoking?

Since 2007, smoking has been banned in all enclosed and semi-enclosed public places in the whole of the UK but care workers continue to be exposed to cigarette smoke because of where they work.  Residential care homes have been exempted from the smoking ban although there are strict rules surrounding where residents are permitted to smoke.

The manager/owner has to designate a room where smoking is permitted and the room must be completely enclosed apart from the doors and windows. The room’s ventilation should take the air outside of the care home; it should have self-closing doors; and the room must not be used by non-smokers for any other purpose, e.g. TV room. Smoking is banned in all other areas of a residential care home.

The legislation also created a new offence of ‘failing to prevent’ smoking in an enclosed public place. If you work in a care home you may need to challenge residents who smoke in areas where this is not permitted. The person who ‘manages or controls’ the premises has the ultimate responsibility, so make sure you have guidance from your employer on how to handle such situations.

The Regulations do not apply to care workers visiting clients in their own homes, as these are not public places. UNISON suggests that a service user (or anyone else present with them) should be asked not to smoke for at least an hour before a home visit, nor during the visit, and to allow the worker to ventilate the rooms they work in by opening the windows. Employers can further improve the situation by ensuring that their staff do not have to visit one smoker immediately after another.

For more information, see UNISON’s Health and Safety at work information sheet on smoking at work .

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.