Columbia-freestate Butts In To Help Companies Butt Out

January 13, 1991|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

When managers at Daedalean Inc. decided to go beyond county smoking restrictions and ban smoking on the job entirely, they did it gently.

"You've really got to take the smoker into consideration in doingsomething like this," said Missy Hall, Daedalean's human resources director, who instituted the policy.

Daedalean, with offices in Woodbine and Columbia, announced its policy last May. It kept designated smoking areas until this month, when smoking indoors was banned altogether. The interim period gave thecompany's smokers a chance to adjust, and many of them cut back, Hall said.

Daedalean's gradual method is one example of what the Columbia-Freestate Health System says it wants other companies to do under the Smoke-Free Workplace program it launched in October.

The health maintenance organization, which employs about 800 people at its headquarters in Columbia, is the county's fourth-largest employer and was among the first to ban smoking from its premises in 1987. Last fall it offered its experience to other companies seeking to ban smoking on the job.

Columbia-Freestate will provide speakers, stop-smoking classes, counselors and suggestions for creating a smoke-free workplace to businesses. There is no charge for any of the services.

Workers who smoke are likely to find more companies taking these stepsas reports warn of the dangers of passive smoking. On Wednesday, theAmerican Heart Association reported results of a University of California study showing passive smoke was the nation's third-leading preventable cause of death, killing nearly 53,000 non-smoking Americans each year.

While evidence mounts to ban smoking from the workplace,employers should approach the issue carefully, said Columbia-Freestate's Laura Nieboer, who runs the program.

"You can't just announceit . . . and expect people not to have a fit," Nieboer said.

Besides being good public relations, the program is expected to save money for the HMO in the long run.

"The more companies that don't havesmoking on the premises, the fewer people we have that will come down with the long-term effects of smoking, which will be cancer and heart disease," Nieboer said. "It costs money for everybody.

Daedalean, which manufactures training simulators for military equipment suchas helicopters and tanks, was one of the first companies to take advantage of Columbia-Freestate's offer.

"We wanted to better the workplace and we felt that it was a lot safer," especially considering the ventilation system at the Woodbine headquarters, Hall said.

"The guy in the office next door was breathing pretty much the same air (that clouded a smoker's office)," she said.

The reaction to the policy has been minimal, Hall said, although "there were a few "oohs" and "aahs" at the beginning, when it was announced."

Since 1988, smoking has been banned in Howard County offices that employ more thansix people. Nevertheless, creation of smoke-free workplaces in the county remains an issue "because there's a right way and a wrong way to comply with the law," Nieboer says. A lot of employees aren't awarethere is such a law, she said. Nieboer suggests that employers use statistics about smoking-related problems like absenteeism and respiratory illnesses to help explain the importance of the law.

When thelaw was passed in 1988, the county's third-largest employer, Bendix Field Engineering Corp., sent employees a memorandum informing them of the company's compliance with the law and the reasons for limiting smoking, said Michael Mayer, manager of labor-employee relations.

"Our policy for all intents and purposes is the application of the law in Howard County," Mayer said. That means establishing designated smoking areas apart from work areas inside buildings.

The company, which has a Columbia work force of about 950, also participates in the one-day-a-year Great American Smokeout and holds a series of stop-smoking classes. There are, however, no plans to make its smoking policy more restrictive, Mayer said.

The Rouse Co. and the Ryland Group have similar smoking policies.

At the Metropolitan Life office, which is smoke-free by corporate decree, employees have complained about people smoking in bathrooms and hallways at their Ellicott City office building. The building managers last week posted new signs restricting all smoking there.

Metropolitan's branch administrator, Ceil Dontell, said the issue is one of professionalism.

"You're walking into a strange building to see a strange client and you walk off the elevator into a cloud of smoke to see six or seven people smoking. . . . I just felt it wasn't professional."

With hallway and bathroom smoking bans strictly enforced, employees of Met Life and the building's other tenants now brave the cold or sit in heated cars to grab a smoke.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.