Smoke-free workplace at prison doesn’t come easily

Government had employees' health in mind but banning smoking from prisons was a delicate and lengthy process

A Crown corporation was obligated to protect its employees from second-hand smoke at work but its gradual phasing in of a no-smoking policy over years was sufficient, the Canadian Public Service Labour Relations Board has ruled.

Hélène Galarneau was a correctional officer for the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) at the Montée St-François Institution and Federal Training Centre in Laval, Que. In 2005, Galarneau, along with several other officers, filed a grievance claiming the CSC violated health and safety provisions in the collective agreement, non-smoking legislation and her rights under the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms by exposing her to second-hand smoke and not doing enough to stop it.

Galarneau claimed her quality of life had deteriorated because of the exposure, causing health problems, stress and discomfort.

The CSC admitted correctional officers had been exposed to second-hand smoke on their jobs, but it had been taking steps to improve the situation. However, it said it had to take a gradual approach because of the issue of inmates smoking in penitentiaries. For example, when smoking was banned in public service workplaces in 1989, an exception was made for areas shared with those who weren’t public service employees, including inmates in correctional institutions. Inmates and employees were prohibited from smoking in administrative areas of institutions but could smoke in residential areas and visiting rooms.

The CSC worked with representatives of inmates and unions to gradually move towards a smoke-free environment. It was difficult because the majority of inmates smoked and when they were restricted, they reacted and safety became a concern. In 2008, a complete indoor and outdoor ban was successfully challenged by inmates, so smoking remained permissible outdoors on CSC property.

Galarneau said she was exposed to inappropriate amounts of second-hand smoke since the original ban in 1989 in various locations in the workplace, including cell ranges. She said partial bans were ineffective because ventilation systems merely blew smoke around inside the facility.

The board found it was reasonable for the CSC to balance employees’ rights to a healthy workplace and the rights of inmates to smoke in their living environment. It also found making correctional institutions smoke-free was a significant change that could not be implemented rapidly. Safety was a legitimate concern as well, said the board.

“Imposing restrictions on smoking inside correctional institutions and evolving to a smoke-free environment represented a major change, which required a shift in attitudes and habits for both inmates and employees,” said the board. “Safety within correctional institutions was a concern, which the CSC could not overlook when determining its approach.”

The board found the CSC was committed to creating a smoke-free environment and took measures that were reasonable to protect the health and safety of its employees. The grievance was dismissed. See Galarneau v. Canada (Treasury Board — Correctional Service of Canada), 2010 CarswellNat 301 (Can. Public Service Labour Rel. Bd.).

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