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Round Two

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As the WCB prepares to reintroduce smoking regulations, it appears they have another fight on their hands

The WCB worries second-hand smoke may be the death of bar and restaurant workers – the bar and restaurant industry worries that second-hand smoke regulations may be the death of business

The success or failure of the new Workers Compensation Board regulations protecting workers from the hazards of second-hand smoke depends greatly upon your definition of what constitutes success and what constitutes failure. It’s not what you would call a win-win situation.

It was almost one year ago this week – March 22 to be precise – that the Supreme Court of B.C. ruled that previous smoking legislation introduced by the Worker Compensation Board was null and void, as far as bars, pubs and restaurants were concernted, due to the lack of public consultation that preceded it.

While the WCB did hold public hearings on a law that would protect workers from second hand smoke, entertainment venues, restaurants and bars were exempt at the time. When the WCB added a "sunset clause" that removed this exemption, bar and restaurant owners successfully argued that another round of public hearings was required.

The WCB vowed to reintroduce the regulations ASAP, and held four public hearings around the province in June. They collected 546 oral and written submissions, pro and con, and promised to take them under advisement when they reintroduced the regulations.

During the 80 days the original regulations were in effect, prohibiting bars and restaurants to expose their employees to second-hand smoke without exception, the B.C. Coalition of Hospitality Organizations estimates that six bars went out of business and another 730 bar and restaurant workers lost their jobs. The same group also claims that they lost revenues in excess of $100 million as a result of the prohibition – between 15 and 85 per cent of revenues – and a few bars even announced that they would be filing a class action lawsuit to recoup their losses.

It was thrown out of court, but the WCB was ordered by the provincial government to look into the matter to determine what the losses were and to do what they do best – compensate.

The study revealed that in the first month, business at B.C.’s bars and restaurants declined 12.3 per cent for the month of January, but rebounded slightly to a 4.9 per cent decline in February. The WCB did not translate those percentages into dollar values.

Despite the failure of the original sunset clause, and the likelihood that some form of compensation will be necessary down the road, the WCB is committed to including bars, restaurants and entertainment venues in the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.

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