The Irving Oil Ltd. refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick is a great example of how companies can promote health and well-being in the workplace, by taking action on tobacco use. Winner of a National Heart & Stroke Foundation Tobacco-Free Innovation Award in 2013, it is the first oil refinery in all of Canada to create and implement a Tobacco-Free Workplace policy for its employees, which is now celebrating its 5th year anniversary.

Launched on July 2, 2012, the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery’s Tobacco-Free Workplace program not only prohibits smoking on the entire grounds of its property (780 acres), but also supports employees in their journey towards quitting smoking.

“We knew that tobacco use rates were higher in New Brunswick and in our workplace than the national average,” explains Darlene Farrell, Occupational Health & Wellness Nurse who oversees the employee smoking cessation program. “Our company felt we needed to do something about it. The health and well-being of our employees truly are important for our company: we want our employees to enjoy many good years of health now and well into retirement. Having a tobacco-free environment supports this.”

Photo: Darlene Farrell is an Occupational Health & Wellness Nurse at the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery in Saint John. She manages the employee smoking cessation program.

“Our entire property is tobacco-free. Even smoking in cars and vehicles is prohibited once they enter the property. No-smoking signs are placed at all entrances to the property and all new employees, even our contractual workers, are made aware of the policy during the hiring process as well as during their safety orientation.”

Employees who wish to smoke during breaks thus need to leave the property to do so. Since the refinery is quite large, this has been a great incentive to motivate many employees to manage their cravings with nicotine replacement therapy or stop smoking altogether. “We do not ask that people stop smoking – that was not the goal. Rather, we wanted to create a healthier workplace environment, which encourages employees to stop smoking and improves their chance of success. We started offering counselling and support to employees who wanted to stop smoking in January 2012, a good six months ahead of the implementation of the new tobacco-free policy, so that employees could get a head start and get used to the idea. We held many information sessions on how to stop smoking and handed out stop smoking kits and made cessation aids available. We were also very respectful with our communication. We offered our managers training to understand nicotine addiction and be aware of the various resources available to help an employee overcome his or her addiction. We also held information sessions so that all our employees could empathize with and encourage their colleagues who were in the process of quitting smoking.”

Any employee at the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery who wants to reduce or stop smoking can thus take advantage of access to free nicotine replacement stop-smoking aids (gum, lozenges, inhalers, sprays, and patches) as well as one on one counselling with nurses on site. Support group sessions take place over eight weeks at a time, allowing employees who are quitting smoking the chance to debrief and share their experiences with others. Stop smoking kits were also distributed extensively at the launch of the policy and are available for employees at any given time. They contain helpful items such as educational booklets on the topic, as well as breath mints and a word search book to help distract from cigarette cravings during break time.

“We also have ambassadors on hand – employees who have successfully stopped smoking – that can share their experience. And we have featured monthly success stories – learning how a colleague has overcome his or her nicotine addiction is a powerful motivator! The stories inspire employees who smoke to try to stop, and encourages employees who are in the process of quitting to keep pushing forward.”

Farrell notes that three months after the tobacco-free policy was put in place, approximately 60% of employees who were taking advantage of the free counselling and nicotine replacement therapy reported having reduced their tobacco consumption and 30% reported having quit smoking altogether. By 2015, approximately 40 to 50% reported having quit smoking, ’’Of course, some people do relapse, and we want them to know that relapse can be part of their journey; they can try again and be successful.”

There have been many noticeable benefits of a tobacco-free environment at the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery. Benefits that any workplace can enjoy when it implements programs and initiatives that put the health and well-being of its employees first.

“We are seeing a culture shift,” says Farrell. “Many employees have expressed gratitude that the company does so much to help them stop smoking.”

She has a few tips for managers who would like to start a similar policy in their workplace.

“Have a good communication plan in place and encourage your employees to be involved in the process. For example, we had an advisory group made up of various team members throughout the refinery. This group assisted with the implementation of the Tobacco-Free Workplace policy. Make your intentions known well in advance that smoking will be prohibited on your property, allow your employees ample time to start to make some healthy lifestyle changes before the policy comes into effect and provide them access to resources to help them do so. It is important to understand just how powerful nicotine addiction is and letting your employees know that you care.”

Story and photos used with permission from Irving Oil Ltd.

Published in February 2018.

By Nathalie Landry – NBATC Communications Coordinator.