Would you hire a worker who you knew had the potential for greater than average absenteeism, reduced productivity, and an increased risk of injuries? Neither would WEYCO or a host of other companies that have decided not to employ workers who smoke. And this, it seems, could be getting companies with strict non-smoking policies in a lot of hot water.
While the media and other organizations have focused on the recent firing of four workers at Michigan-based WEYCO Inc. over the company’s newly-instated non-smoking policy, other companies are also penalizing smokers, said the Wall Street Journal late last year, taking measures ranging from imposing surcharges on health premiums for smokers and reducing long-term disability benefits for smokers, to not hiring people who smoke at all. It’s not a trend of just a few companies, either — the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that over 6,000 employers in the United States currently have policies against hiring smokers (“Smoking Could Be Hazardous To Your Job.” Dallas Morning News. 2 February 2005).
Smoking’s ills are well researched: cigarette smoking has been linked to lung cancer and emphysema, increased absenteeism and, as WEYCO points out, reduced worker productivity. But what companies often fail to mention is another impact that smoking, whether at work or at home, has on the workplace — people who smoke have an increased risk for the development of workplace injuries including musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
The reason for the smoking-MSD association is yet to be clearly understood, but the 2004 Surgeon General’s report titled Health Consequences of Smoking on the Human Body, theorized that smoking could be linked to a reduction of bone mass for the following reasons:
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2005-02-02.