Safety and OSHA News

Does a healthy workplace include no second-hand smoke?

OSHA’s General Duty Clause says employers have to furnish places of employment free from hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. Does that include a smoke-free workplace? One casino faces a lawsuit.

The mother of a former casino dealer who died of cancer last year has filed a lawsuit against Harrah’s New Orleans, accusing the company of “failing to provide a safe workplace.”

Denise Bevrotte filed the case on behalf of her son, Maceo Bevrotte, Jr., alleging his “cancer is directly linked to the long-term second-hand smoke exposure that he suffered as an employee of Harrah’s.”

The lawsuit could turn into a class action case. A federal judge will rule on that. If approved, more than 1,000 former and current Harrah’s employees could join the lawsuit.

In recent years, Harrah’s has made some poker rooms and gaming tables smoke free. But Maceo’s mother calls that too little, too late.

This isn’t the first such lawsuit. Lawyers have filed two class-action lawsuits against Las Vegas casinos, alleging that the health of employees is being affected by second-hand smoke. One is against the Wynn Las Vegas with another against Caesars Palace. Last fall, a federal judge refused Wynn’s request to throw out the lawsuit.

Do casino or other business owners owe a duty to their employees to provide a smoke-free environment? Let us know what you think in the Comments Box below.

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  • Kurt Gollhardt

    Yes, exposing workers to significant second-hand smoke should be considered a violation of the requirement to furnish places of employment free from hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

  • http://env-mgt.eom Hank

    “Does (OSHA’s General Duty Clause) include a smoke-free workplace?…Do casino or other business owners owe a duty to their employees to provide a smoke-free environment?”

    No, because there is not a single, peer-reviewed, sound scientific study demonstrating a significant causal hazard from second-hand smoke. Not one. And before you go into a rant in response to this, do your homework… ALL of the current sound research indicates NO significant hazard associated with second-hand smoke, in the workplace, the home, or anywhere else…

  • Sally

    I agree with Hank. People are not FORCED to work in the casino. Where i work allows smoking, but we have very good vents. I do not smoke and i am not bothered. We have all lost someone to cancer, illness or accident; our pain does not justify benefiting from it.

  • Aïda

    This guy did not have to work at the casino. He had a choice. Don’t get me wrong, I hate cigarettes with a passion, and have had to quit working at companies years ago because they allowed smoking in the workplace, and I ended up with some major respiratory ailments because of the constant smoke inside the office. But the important point is that in the same way that I quit because of the smoke, this guy could have done something else for a living if he wanted.

  • sheralroh

    I believe that employees and even non-smoking guests have the right to work and have fun at the Casinos without obnoxious smokers forcing their bad habits on us. That is exactly what they do to us, force us to put up with their disgusting habit. I was sitting at a blackjack table once with all non-smokers and someone came and sat his butt down in the middle and puffed away. We asked him to stop smoking and he very ungraciously denied our request. Smokers are self centered and because of their lack of will-power, impose their habit on others.
    No one should have to give up a good paying job because of smokers. California businesses thought they would suffer if they had to become non-smoking facilities and that prophercy did not come true. People adapted. I say good luck to this young man’s family… Maybe the casinos will sit up and take notice now.

  • Lily

    Someone should give up their job because of some selfish addicted person? I don’t think so, especially not in this economy! Long ago it was proven that second hand smoke hurts people. I have seen videos when a fetus is choking in the womb because some jerk is smoking around the mother. Yes, you should do the research and you will see that smoking is not good for anyone. If a meth user was sitting next to you would you expect to be forced to use? This is the same thing – someone is addicted to cigarettes and is trying to force you into their addiction. They should sue and I hope they win big to send a big message – take your filthy habit out back by the dumpsters where it belongs.

  • Steve

    I am not a lawyer, but as a Manager at a Law Firm that deals with lung cancer cases primarily, there is no doubt in my mind that second hand smoke will cuase serious health complications, including death. I see no difference between protecting employees from second hand tobacco smoke, or protecting them from the exhaust fumes from a piece of machinery. In our office we won’t even allow people to sit near printers or copy machines because they produce ozone, which is biologically corrosive. Since most work arrangements are “at will”, it is true that the person does not have to work at the casino, but in reality this is not an excuse for negligence on the part of the employer. Stay tuned because I bet OSHA will see it this way too.

  • sheralroh

    I agree with you Steve. Why should someone be forced to give up a job because of someone else’s disgusting habit, especially when jobs are so hard to come by.

  • Getreal

    Hank – You must work for a tobacco company and be a smoker. I suggest you open your eyes and mind, Google “second hand smoke dangers” and see what pops up. Then read some of it. How can you or anyone with any reasonable level of intelligence deny that second hand smoke is harmful?

    Other than that, many states have laws prohibiting smoking in the workplace. If casinos are located in such states, then they have an obligation to abide by the law.

  • sheralroh

    I think these no-smoking in the workplace laws also apply to Indian Casinos as well. They seem to put revenue above the life of their employees. State laws should be enforced at all workplaces.

  • Aïda

    I wonder whether the casinos owned by different Indian Nations are under the same jurisdiction as corporate owned casinos? The fact that they can even have casinos hinges on them not being under the same jurisdiction as the rest of America, However, they pay taxable wages and worker’s comp., so I would think that they would fall under American OSHA regulations.

    I mean how much do they have to abide by our laws?

  • http://brownair.net/blog J. E. Sikora

    OSHA says it would take thousands, even a million cigarettes in an enclosed 100 cubic meter room to breach their PELs… see http://brownair.net/blog/2011/03/16/cigarette-smoking-is-healthy-says-osha/
    OSHA has almost 3rd world air contaminant pels.

  • Sally

    Aida: First, the smoking ban does not apply to tribal owned casinos. To your comment: ‘how much do they have to abide by our laws?’- remember, they were here first so who is violating who?
    And finally, they are overseen by another entity and OSHA does not have jurisdiction. I hate smoke too, but we are talking about the actual law and these days cancer is caused by everything, including our hormone induced meat.
    Hope that clarifies.

  • Aïda

    Sally, “violating” (your words) Indians nowadays is a rather harsh comment about Americans, don’t you think? The Indians may have been here first (and I have Indian relatives whom I love dearly, so I don’t dislike them by any means), but they are in America and employ American citizens, ergo they have to abide by some of our laws.

    And what does hormone induced meat have to do with banning cigarettes in the workplace?

  • Greg

    There is no concrete evidence in this case that second hand smoke is what caused the cancer. For all we know he could of had massive levels of radon coming up through the floorboards in his house. Its the second biggest cause of lung cancer, but its always overlooked because of the evils of smoking. For all we know the 8 hours he spent at work he could have been breathing cleaner air than if we spent 16 hours in a house filled with radon. There a hundreds of things that you come in contact daily that cause cancer, there is no smoking gun that shows that working in a casino caused this mans illness.

  • Al

    I agree there should be places where we can go no matter if one smokes or not. Good marketing provides smoke free environments for the paying guests at some casinos. I don’t think someone should have to quit to protect their health on the job and OSHA will hopefully see it this way. As far as the tribal casinos and the question of that population being here first I think that question has not been answered, Kennewick Man being the oldest human remains found in the US and possibly not being of Indian heritage. I also have questions regarding how the consitution allows tribes being independent nations within this nation. There are to many questions but one answer is clear, second hand smoke is a bad thing no matter what nation it is in..

  • Hank

    “GetReal”, my statement stands: there is not a single, peer-reviewed, sound scientific study demonstrating a significant causal hazard from second-hand smoke. Not one. If you think there is, produce it. I HAVE done my homework, and your assertions amount to two logical fallacies rather than a rational or factual rebuttal.

    Oh, and just to make the point I am neither a smoker (though I previously was) nor an employee of a tobacco company: I am a Safety & Health Consultant who knows how to actually research the facts on an issue rather than make emotional but irrational claims.

  • Monica

    Clean Air Act.

  • David

    Most jobs have some sort of occupational hazard associated with them. If one chooses to be employed by a casino they accept the risk associated with it. This could be compaired to banning the use of keyboards do to a chance of carpal tunnel. The key word in OSHA’s general duty clause mentioned above is “likely” Where as developing cancer from second hand smoke cannot be considered “likely”, merely possible. Should we ban peanut products from all public places because it is possible someone might have an allergic reaction? I do however believe that it would be a very wise business move for casinos to create smoke free gaming areas, but banning smoking all together would harm casinos as there business model depends on people not leaving the gaming floor, a point that seems to be conseeded by governments as most jurisdictions with public smoking laws on the books have exemptions for casinos.

    Tribal casinos are exempt because they are located on tribal reservations which do not fall under the jurisdiction of the state, and are not technically even part of the US.

  • Getreal

    Hank – OK. You’ve got the time to do the research, so you must be right. Just keep on sucking in that 2nd hand smoke since your research doesn’t tell you it will bother you any. Just don’t send any my way. And I guess all those anti-smoking laws pertaining to restaurants, public buildings, the workplace, etc. are just an overreaction to unfounded hysteria.

  • Terrey

    Hank, I am also a reformed smoker, but after I had been quit for a few years I was offered a job. I had been unemployed for 8 months. I took the job because I was offered it, and our State law will take your Benefits away if you turn down a viable job to your career. The employer required us to be acceptable to Second Smoke, I have been Ill a great deal because of the second hand smoke, resulting now in a allergic reaction to it. It has taken me out of of work for a whole week. I even had to use and inhaler once to get through it. As long as I stay out of the primary areas that people smoke in, and keep my door closed I am fine. But should I be sacrificed this way? There are only two non smokers in this environment. It’s horrible to go through this on a daily basis. I know plenty about it, my Mother died from COPD in my home. The office’s here are more cloudy than a bar room. It takes my breath away.

  • Aïda

    Terrey, I feel for you. I worked for a company years ago who had such a bad smoking problem that when our clients would open correspondence from us they could smell the smoke on the paper. It was this that ultimately made them do away with the lax smoking policy.

    Have you tried to put a fan on in your office to displace as much smoke as possible? It’s not enough to fix your health problems, but it is a start. And most importantly, you are sending a signal to your co-workers that you cannot take the smoke.