A look at the law on smoking at veterinary clinics

A look at the law on smoking at veterinary clinics

Stay on the right side of smokers, nonsmokers, and the law.
Jun 01, 2008

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The most obvious component of any indoor air quality program has to be control of tobacco smoke. More than one-quarter of employees in the United States are smokers, according to a National Health Interview survey. This presents a challenge to all business owners, who must balance the rights of smokers with those of nonsmokers.

It's pretty clear by now that secondhand smoke isn't healthy. Many veterinary hospitals and some cities and states have prohibited smoking in buildings. This may solve some problems, but there are still situations when you may need to take action. For instance, if staff members congregate outside the back door to smoke, nearby HVAC ducts or other mechanical equipment may reintroduce the smoke into the building. Also, if there are enough smokers in that area, the exit is in essence "blocked" because nonsmokers can't be forced to use any area where smoking is allowed.

Phil Seibert, CVT
Because most veterinary team members simply take a break when they need one, perhaps the most frustrating challenge for hospital leaders is the productivity lost to smoke breaks. Many large companies that banned smoking in their buildings years ago have reversed their decisions and created indoor smoking areas in an attempt to recapture some of that lost work time.

If your practice allows smoking in the building, you need to establish designated smoking areas. And these should be areas where other employees don't need to go during their normal work activities. For instance, the break room wouldn't be appropriate. Post signs in designated smoking areas and near the entrance to inform people that smoking is restricted to certain locations.

Generally speaking, smoking areas must be enclosed and exhausted directly to the outside. Federal guidelines recommend that contaminated exhaust air be transported outside through ducts under negative pressure to avoid leakage. In order to maintain this negative pressure, the HVAC system or exhaust fans must blow out more air than is supplied by intake vents. There's no regulation yet on this subject, but my money is on OSHA taking action in the near future. With states already banning indoor smoking in public places, the political climate seems to be such that the agency could reintroduce this issue with little resistance.

Phil Seibert, CVT, is an author, speaker, and consultant with SafetyVet in Calhoun, Tenn. Send questions or comments to