August 2016 – Article: The Upsides of Butting Out on the Job


Inset: Heidi McKean at an EllisDon construction work site spreading the ‘Smoke Free’ message for the construction industry.  Inset Photo: Ottawa Public Health

The percentage of smokers on construction jobs across Canada is virtually twice the number of overall smokers in Ontario and in Canada.  Figures collected in 2012 and distributed by Ottawa Public Health (OPH) (@OttawaHealth) show the smoking rate on Canadian construction work sites is 34%.  In Ontario it is 16% province-wide and in Canada, it is 17%.

Armed with those statistics, the Building and Construction Trades Council in Ottawa drafted a letter to the Ottawa Medical Officer of Health in February of that year supporting an application by OPH for a Workplace-based Tobacco Cessation Demonstration Project for Eastern Ontario.  In his letter, Business Manager Richard Hayter noted risk factors including lack of exercise, smoking, high alcohol intake and obesity, represent significant economic challenges to employers.

“The cost benefits of a healthy workplace far outweigh the monetary costs of an unhealthy workplace”, he says.

In addition, Hayter explains that by creating a healthy workplace, the employer is seen as demonstrating a social responsibility in the community as well as performing legal due diligence with respect to their employees, customers and stakeholders.

While these are sound business reasons, the real challenge still lies with encouraging the employee to quit.  That’s the job of Heidi McKean and Jeff Satchwill at OPH.

“More than 1,400 workers have heard or seen our smoke free message over the past few years”, says McKean, a public health nurse with the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.  “To date, a total of 547 workers have made a quit attempt”. 

Among those are members of LiUNA Local 527 in Ottawa.  Approximately 350 members filled out surveys and provided feedback before listening to McKean and Satchwill’s presentation.

“We had a quit smoking contest after the members attended the information sessions,” says Steve Di Nardo, Administrator of the LiUNA Local 527 Training and Education Centre.  “It proved to be very successful for those who participated”.

A “reformed smoker”, Di Nardo was first introduced to the smoking cessation program through the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) at a joint Labour Management meeting organized by the Ottawa Building and Construction Trades Council.  He says for a long time, smoking has been a very serious problem and people realize that when it’s too late.

“For those members who have tried to quit, many have commented on how the habit is worse than the addiction”, says Di Nardo.  “Many associated smoking with their usual daily routines which was difficult for them to change.”

While the number of workers attempting to quit may be encouraging, there remains a lot of work to do.

“Quit attempts help to build skills to quit smoking, and are shown to lead to a smoke-free life”, says McKean.  “We support people trying to quit or reduce.  It’s skill power, not willpower that brings success”.

With 1,800 employees across Canada, Ellis Don (@EllisDon)was one of the first to get behind OPH’s smoking cessation program.

“We thought it was the right thing to do for our employees” says Kenny Tuff, Regional Safety Director for Ellis Don.  “It speaks to the importance of the overall health of our employees, helps with time management on our job sites and makes resources available to those employees who want to quit smoking”.

Tuff says Ellis Don has no statistics on the numbers of employees who smoke.  However after the program was implemented, Tuff says it showed who wanted to quit and the desire they had.  He says from that perspective, the program has been very successful.

What would Tuff say to other contractors concerned about smoking on the job site or considering involvement in the program?

“It sounds cliché,” says Tuff, “but what do you have to lose.  There’s no financial burden attached, you’re offering wellness to your employees and you’re showing that you have the best interests of your employees in mind.”

The smoking cessation program is gathering momentum.  Richard Hayter says funding is available and the Canadian Building Trades Union is committed to taking this initiative nationally beginning on the East Coast. No timelines have yet been identified.

OPH has developed a pair of infographics designed to show the value for both the employee and employer. These can be found on the IHSA website together with additional information and tools.

Other websites that can serve as resources include:

The Infrastructure Health and Safety Association [IHSA] also has a safety talk at


Click below images to VIEW & DOWNLOAD the two Smoking Infographics (for Workers & Employers) by Ottawa Public Health















Fred Lehmann
Communications Coordinator,

Ontario Construction Secretariat (OCS)
180 Attwell Drive, Suite 360, Toronto, ON M9W 6A9
P 416.620.5210 ext. 222
F 416.620.5310