Smoking Policies for Wood Shops

How should wood-shop employers deal with the issues raised by employees who smoke? The question leads to a lively debate. December 2, 2006

I might sound like a hard nosed person, but here goes... I always thought I would not have any problem with someone that smoked at the shop. No one else here smokes, but I really didn't see it as a potential problem. Until I hired a smoker.

This person was hired full time. I did not know he smoked when the position was offered. I don't think it would have mattered to me at the time. He started on day one. Every half hour or so, he would step outside the shop (when I was here) and burn about 25% of a cigarette, put it out and save the rest for later. It seemed like every time I looked up, he was doing something that had to do with smoking. When the breeze came in the shop (fans and such), the smell of cigarette smoking would fill our little 2000K ft shop. Other employees mentioned it to me. They didn't like the smell. He would toss his butts down outside the bay door and now we have a little collection. I found burnt butts on my bathroom floor, so I know he was smoking in there. His last day was yesterday. He resigned to move back up north.

So here is my problem. I know smoking is prevalent in this industry. Currently no one here smokes. I want to be as fair to everyone as I can about this. I don't think it's fair to tell someone they can't smoke here. I don't think it's fair for everyone else to have to put up with it. Do you have a smoking policy? I can't imagine taking disciplinary action against someone for smoking. I don't want to ask potential employees if they smoke.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor A:
Seems like you just need to set up a policy about smoking. Like you can smoke 50 feet away from the shop or in a designated smoking area, on your breaks.

From contributor F:
No smoking unless on break or lunch time. Designated area to smoke, and the smoker polices his own butts. You don't have to ask if a new hire smokes if you don't want to, but tell all who apply what is expected if they do. Any risk to your shop or other employees and their gone. – From a smoker.

From contributor H:

No smoking in the shop or on company property period! Banks do it, schools do it, hospitals do it, county offices do it. Why should you allow it for any reason? If there is smoking in your shop or on your property, it could, because of the nature of your business, raise your fire insurance. An employee who smokes will also have higher health insurance premiums, if you offer coverage.

Secondhand smoke annoys other workers and the boss. Just say no to drugs. Nicotine is possibly the most addictive drug there is. Do not even begin to feel bad about it. It's your place. It's your life. It's your future.

From contributor L:
Back in 1981, we returned to our shop from a delivery and parked next to the fire truck, which carried the firemen who broke in our front door and saved our shop from burning down. One of our smokers had grabbed a quick smoke while finishing loading the truck, and dropped the butt on the driveway. Then someone dropped a packing blanket on it, scooping it up, and carried it inside the shop with all the extra packing blankets.

Another worker set the back of our small truck on fire by flipping a butt out the window and into the back of the truck while driving on the highway. The packing blankets caught fire and burned most of the paint off the bed before the idiot noticed the flames.

You are the boss; ban smoking if you want to. We hire smokers from time to time and few seem to work out. If they can't wait till break to smoke, what does that say about their discipline and work ethic? Smokers who have to smoke every thirty minutes are addicts, plain and simple. I think that like drug testing, asking about smoking habits is a good way to weed out the losers before you hire them. Life is not fair; being a boss isn't fair either - set your policy and enforce it.

From contributor C:
What state are you In? There is an indoor smoking law in a lot of states and it just isn't tolerated. I was told it's okay to ask someone if they smoke. It can be considered in evaluating whether someone will be a potentially profitable employee. The example you gave should not walk out whenever he wants to smoke any part of a cigarette. He should have a 15 minute break in the morning to smoke, then his lunch half hour or hour and a 15 minute break in the afternoon. Think of how much production is lost at .67 per minute of labor rate, times a year's worth of cig breaks. Have you ever added up the time spent by employees using the bath on company time? Should they go to the bath on their break time?

From contributor B:
No smokers… period! I don't care if they were to try and take me to the labor board under some claim of discrimination. It's my shop in my building on my property!

Years ago I hired a kid who smoked. One day, I found a rolled up butt in the cardboard wood scraps barrel! Can you imagine that! He claimed it was no big deal because he rolled the butt up with his fingers so it "had to be out." My response was I didn't care if he had drowned it in the sink first. Putting butts in cardboard barrels holding wood scraps was pure idiocy. I was totally dumbfounded. This wood barrel was right inside the shop. I could have lost the entire building.

I know of someone who did lose a woodworking shop to a customer who was walking through the attic storage area of the wood barn shop building and threw down a butt. He had to start over from scratch. It put him back for years.

Bottom line is that I have no tolerance of most smokers. Anyone who would throw litter on the ground (butts are litter, by the way) shows a lack of awareness and consideration for others and the world. There certainly are some smokers that show reasonable smoking habits... but most don't. And besides, as the questioner said in his post, everyone else around has to deal with the smell. This is a real pet peeve of mine.

From contributor J:
I've had smokers on the crew, and heard a lot of resentment from the nonsmokers about the time spent outside, or worse, the sneaking of a butt inside the shop. They felt it was unfair extra break time, and they were right.

So what do we have?
1. Morale problem
2. Lost production
3. Fire hazard
4. Health damage
5. Littering
6. Violated protection laws
7. Burns in upholstery and stench in company vehicles

This is all for the personal indulgence of one employee in an optional practice. This employee should consider himself optional as well. It is a pleasure to see them huddled in the cold and rain outside their offices, treated as the pariah they have always been.

From contributor C:
I don't think it is legal not to hire based on whether or not someone is a smoker. What people do on their own time (so long as it is legal) is not my business - as long as it does not affect work.

Absolutely no smoking in the building, period. This is for fire risk, insurance, OSHA, secondhand smoke, you name it. No butts anywhere. Makes a piss-poor impression on customer visiting the showroom. When you're not on break, you're inside working - not smoking.

But I'd say be smart and don't hire based on smoking habits, age, weight issues, skin color or anything else unrelated to the ability to do the job. Good people are hard enough to find, and in 20 years I have not yet seen a consistent profile that would substitute for just looking at skills and commitment.

From contributor D:
Some of the best, most efficient cabinetmakers I have ever met in my life smoke like chimneys. I will probably be condemned for my beliefs and actions here, but I allow smoking in my shop. Believe it or not, this unique policy can actually attract a better quality worker at a lower rate. This may sound crazy to some of you, but 2-3 of my best guys have already told me that a big part of the reason they prefer to work for me as opposed to my competitors (who actually pay more), is the fact that they can smoke on the job. Remember, job satisfaction can be more appealing to employees than higher pay rates.

This has been my policy for 20 years. We have never had a cigarette fire, and we have always turned an above average profit. If it is not broke, then don't fix it! Besides, no breaking to go smoke in the bathroom, or outside or anything like that. Good workers don't like having to do that any more than us bosses. Good workers like to get some momentum going and get the job done. They just need their nicotine fix. I mean these poor guys either sand or shove wood through a saw all day long. What are they, waiting to win a Nobel prize? This is all they have - let them enjoy a couple of smokes while they DA sand 275 doors a day. If you want me to sand 275 doors, you had better offer me something stronger that tobacco... Just kidding. Go ahead, let me have it. I expect it. Me and my crew will smoke all the way to the bank.

From contributor G:
Shouldn't we ban caffeine related use in the shop, and the office too? No more coffee or pop drinking, unless on your break or outside the building. The leftover cups litter the shop, and who wants to talk to someone with coffee breath? The coffee and pop drinkers are just a bunch of caffeine addicts anyway.

Contributor C did bring up a good point about going to the bathroom on company time. I'm curious if others have a policy about this. In my opinion, there's a fine line with rules and regulations. We can run our shops like the military, but do most people really want to work in that environment?

From contributor Y:
The city helped me with the smoking problem - a no smoking in the workplace ordinance. We've had two fires caused by smokers, both caught before major damage. It's a sad commentary that some people are so addicted that they can't go 2 hours without a butt. When hiring, smoking is one of many things that is taken into consideration. Having a "smoking area" in a building is a lot like having a pissing area in a swimming pool.

From contributor T:
No smoking or coffee or anything else (except clear water) in my shop. If you smoke, do it on your break and only in your car. Smokers are responsible for all cig butts, theirs or not. Smokers are out in their cars at break and never seem to become part of the crew. With all we know about the health risk, how can anyone smoke?

From contributor S:
I'm sure glad to see I am not the only one who hates to work with a smoker. Smoking is not allowed on my property, period. Smokers waste way too much time with their habit, and generally are pigs about flipping butts, etc. I have fired more than one because of sneaking a smoke in the shop or on my time. I tell everyone at job interview time this is a no smoking zone, and you are out at the second strike. I have seen first hand what a flash lacquer fire will do to a human body.

From contributor M:
For anyone who doesn't smoke, the smell left on the cabinets and in the building is not acceptable. It isn't fair to the non-smokers to work all day while the smokers seem to have some special right to stop and go outside to smoke at will. Not only do I not allow smoking, but drinks without a screw-on cap are also not allowed. These same idiots who can't figure out that smoking only kills you will also lay down a drink and leave it to be knocked over and spilled by someone else. That's the rules here and if they don't like it, then too bad. The only one who isn't easily replaced in my shop is me.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the responses. I must admit that the tone of this post is the opposite of what I thought it would be. I figured I would be the minority. From now on, I'll make the shop no smoking. I'll buy a few signs at Office Depot so there are no questions. The thought of the lacquer fire is what really made up my mind for me. Nothing is worth burning up for.

From contributor I:
Contributor D, you are not alone. Three of my guys and myself are smokers. Horrible habit, I know, but…

I can totally understand everyone else here. It can be a major fire hazard, time waster, smell factor, obvious health factor, etc. I think you are completely justified in having a zero tolerance policy to smoking and basing your hiring practices on it. It is your company to do with as you wish. Labor laws be damned. One way to get around this is to tell prospects at interview that the only smoking is allowed on lunch time and it must be in their car. A non-smoker will immediately tell you they don't smoke. If they do, you can use another reason not to hire them to get around any legal issue.

From contributor X:
Aaaah, that moment of pleasure. Taking that drag. I was a smoker for many years and for many years now a non-smoker. I don't feel it is right to deny those that smoke their right of choice. I appreciate the taxes they contribute to our well being. That goes for the boozers also. Many consumers of our products smoke and booze too. Are you going to deny taking their money for our products? Naaaa.

Solution. At your front door, have a bucket of sand to collect those butts from entering your property. I tell consumers that there is no smoking in the plant. Employees are told where they can smoke and when they can smoke. Idiots who can not abide by rules are fired. So have that area set aside for those who wish to smoke.

Common sense rules. I have a sign over the entrance door that states: "No Smoking; a fire in this plant may put you out of work." Let's have a little consideration for our fellow man - that is from both sides, the smoker and the non-smoker.

From contributor F:
I am a smoker. And if a person is not smart enough to know that wood and other building materials don't mix with cigarettes, then they are not smart enough to do a good job. And as for wasting time, it is true. That's why the person should only smoke on break. I work with a lot of non-smokers and I need to respect them. Just like they respect me.

From contributor U:
If I'm working and I can smell it, then the smoker is out of line. There is no excuse for violating my right to breathe clean air. Smokers should have no rights, and I am glad to see things going this way. If you want to do it, do it on your own time and somewhere where others don't have to smell it or see the residue.

From contributor Z:
I am a smoker. In my shop, there is no smoking, but they are allowed to smoke on breaks, in the smoking area behind the shop. I have no problems with any of my smoking employees. They are back in the shop before their break is over and they keep their smoking area clean. And some of my best employees are smokers.