Clearing the smoke Featured

8:23am EDT November 26, 2002
Creating a successful smoking policy takes careful planning and a lot of communication. Balancing the needs of smokers and nonsmokers and the requirements of the workplace can be a challenge, especially when faced with outdated policies that have been in place for years.

Morgan Electro Ceramics, a Bedford-based electronic component manufacturer, used to have a policy that allowed smoking any time, except for three half-hour periods in the lunchroom.

"It was hard, because if you went into the lunchroom for a break, it was not smoke-free," says Cindy Baldwin, Morgan's human resources manager. "We had clean air filters brought in, but they weren't doing the trick. Our smoking policy was backwards."

Now, there are nine half-hour time periods where you are allowed to smoke in the lunchroom, but nowhere else.

"We're moving toward becoming a smoke-free environment, but we need to allow time for the employees to wind down," says Baldwin. "Our medical department is providing information on smoking cessation. Our goal is to provide a smoke-free workplace by 2004. At that time, there will be two areas outside for smoking, with picnic tables and the appropriate receptacles."

The company also recently offered a one-month supply of a nicotine patch to interested employees.

The situation was similar at Shiloh Industries in Valley City.

The metal products fabricator's policy was that employees could basically smoke whenever and wherever they wanted.

In summer 2001, the company issued a corporate directive to its human resources managers to be tobacco free by Nov. 1, 2002. The company opted to include all tobacco products because of housekeeping issues.

"We broke it down by quarters, and every three months, the areas where they were allowed to smoke were pushed back," says Judi McMullen, group human resources manager for Shiloh. "The convenience to smoke as you work was being removed. It wasn't abrupt, and the employees grew accustomed to it."

With the phase-out completed Nov. 1, employees are only able to smoke at a location outside during lunch.

The company offered smoking cessation information and the opportunity to attend classes to help employees cope with the changes.

Communication played a key role in the acceptance of the policy.

"We explained what the corporate goal was and the reasons behind it to our weekly shift meetings," says McMullen. "Housekeeping was a big issue, and we do blanking and welding, and the last thing you want to see in an assembly plant is ashes between two blanks."

The company had also had products returned because of the presence of smoke and ash residue.

Baldwin says that Morgan's policy change was announced in a state-of-the-company address, and the new policy was posted in conspicuous places around the plant as a reminder. Managers also sat down with groups of employees to explain the policy and answer questions, as well as emphasize that the company takes it very seriously.

"Somebody asked me in an open forum what we would do if we found someone smoking," says Baldwin. "I told them we would follow our progressive discipline guidelines. Our employees have had a year-and-a-half to prepare, there are posters and signs everywhere and weekly updates outline where we are. We've told them that if there's anyway we can help to let us know. We are helping every way we can."

When instituting a change that will have a profound effect on people's lives and their productivity, it's important to assess what you want to accomplish and formulate a well-thought-out plan.

"The policy change wasn't a popular statement the first time we made it," says McMullen. "But when you supply people with enough information so they can understand the reasons behind it, they can make a decision and base it on facts." How to reach: Morgan Electro Ceramics, (440) 232-8600; Shiloh Industries, (216) 267-2600