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Are You Responsible for Controlling Workers' Exposure to Their Own Tobacco Smoke

August 12, 1999
Related Topics: Ergonomics and Facilities, Featured Article
Issue: The nonsmokers in your corporate office ask their senior manager about the extent to which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates smoking in the workplace. Does OSHA regulate exposure to tobacco smoke in the workplace? If so, are you responsible for controlling workers' exposure to their own tobacco smoke?

Answer: Section 1910.1000 of OSHA's General Industry Standards governs occupational exposure to air contaminants, such as carbon monoxide and nicotine. Through this standard, OSHA attempts to regulate smoking in the workplace, but rarely finds that worker exposures exceed the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for carbon monoxide or any other pertinent substances found in tobacco smoke. Therefore, OSHA very seldom finds that nonsmokers are exposed to second-hand smoke in the workplace at levels that exceed the PELs for air contaminants.

In addition, OSHA regulates only work-related exposures—the exposure a nonsmoking employee receives because tobacco smoke exists in the work environment. For example, if a worker must breathe contaminated air in order to perform some work for his or her employer, the worker’s exposure is work-related, and OSHA PELs apply to this situation. How the air became contaminated is not relevant. OSHA rules apply when a worker has to enter contaminated air in order to perform work for his or her employer. A worker’s exposure to his or her own tobacco smoke is not due to performing work, but is due to his or her act of smoking. Therefore, OSHA PELs do not apply to a worker’s exposure to his or her own tobacco smoke, and employers are not responsible for controlling workers’ exposure to their own tobacco smoke.

Cite: OSHA Standards Interpretation and Compliance Letter, October 26, 1998.

Source: CCH Incorporated is a leading provider of information and software for human resources, legal, accounting, health care and small business professionals. CCH offers human resource management, payroll, employment, benefits, and worker safety products and publications in print, CD, online and via the Internet. For more information and other updates on the latest HR news, check our Web site at

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion.

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