Kirklees Council’s health and safety team at centre of smokefree initiatives

smoking office 

Getting things in place 

10 years ago, Kim Walker transferred to Kirklees Council’s Health and Safety to cover someone’s maternity leave having joined from the noise and pollution team. It was an interesting time to join this particular team, as Health and Safety was charged with implementing the new smoking regulations. 

Leading up to 1 July 2007, Kim and her fellow lead officer, Garry Pearson, worked with Environmental Health Officer colleagues and began engaging with local stakeholders to explain the new legislation and how it would impact on them. 

To kick things off, the health and safety team prepared toolkits which included comprehensive information on the new regulations and how they would affect businesses, whilst also writing to all relevant stakeholders. 

But writing to people wasn’t going to be enough to ensure everyone was prepared. In order to complement these initial activities, the council went on a significant engagement programme in the few months prior to the first day of the ban. 

Kim and her colleagues visited 1,518 of their 4,000 plus businesses, which included offices, industrial warehouses and commercial units, where they explained the new regulations, provided relevant signage, what the businesses could do in terms of erecting smoking shelters and provided template smoking policies for their business. 

Importantly, all the different teams within environmental health, including the food and pollution teams, were involved in this business-led engagement. For example, the food team would visit restaurants and cafes as part of their routine inspections and at the same time took the opportunity to explain the new regulations.    

High compliance in Kirklees 

Following the implementation of the new legislation all environmental health officers from the food, health & safety and pollution teams were given a checklist to check that businesses were displaying the correct signage, had compliant shelters, where applicable, and were complying with the regulations. 

With the vast majority of the business sector engaged with, the council turned its attention to engaging with the local community. In addition to having posters around the local area to inform people when the new regulations were coming into play, the council engaged with the local media to ensure the public were fully aware. 

Kim said that in the early days, the business compliant rate was 97%. 

“It was an incredibly smooth implementation and in the first six months running up to the ban being introduced we focused on educating businesses,” said Kim. “While we could count on the vast majority to quickly adapt to the new rules, it was natural that some would try and evade the rules. For example, some pubs tried to get round the rules by hosting lock-ins.” 

In response, Kim and Garry began ‘Smoke Patrol’ an intelligence led programme that gathered evidence on businesses that were blatantly flouting the new law.  This involved visiting pubs late at night and gathering evidence of customers being allowed to smoke inside the premises. A number were issued with warnings and some prosecuted, which led to a rapid decline in law-breaking. 

In addition, a cross-working group, made up of EHOs, the licensing manager, the taxi licensing team and the police service was set up by Kim and her colleague. Together, the working group engaged with businesses to ensure they implemented the ban and helped those who were struggling, while trying to avoid issuing fines. 

New challenges  

kirklees college arms 

Multi-agency team wait to enter a vigilante pub 

But Kirklees Council had one member of the public who wanted to go a step further and start a crusade against the smoking ban.  He was a well-known figure with a history of anti-social behaviour and gained notoriety when he allowed customers to light up in the College Arms, a pub he was ‘managing’ at the time.  He didn’t stop there and started a considerable media campaign in support of smokers, securing appearances in local newspapers and on local BBC news. 

Kirklees Council wanted to deal with this quickly and knew the individual was going to open his smoking pub in early January 2008. But the council were in a bind as they couldn’t close the pub due to a lack of regulatory powers.  The day the pub opened Kim, Garry and a team, which included licensing officers, police, fire officers and trading standards visited the premises with the aim to close the premises there and then for any breach of any regulations related to licensing, fire safety, trading standards etc. However, no offences could be found to perform an immediate closure.  Evidence was gathered as numerous smokers, including the man himself, were found inside. 

But that didn’t deter the team. The working group re-convened and taking a multi-agency approach to prevent further breaches and publicity, the police boarded up the premises the following day and the council issued a summons and immediately started legal proceedings.  This swift action was due to the fact that the law was been flouted with intent and because they wanted to avoid a domino effect where other pubs might to do the same. 

The crusader soon found himself in court but not before the district judge sent him home to get changed after he turned up dressed as St George on top of a horse.  The court sided with the council and he was fined for allowing people to smoke in the pub contrary to the law. Fortunately due to him courting the media the case was reported on widely. 

Additional problems for the council came in the form of students caught smoking on school buses. In response, Kim co-ordinated with the head teacher and senior management at the bus company to educate the children, all while avoiding serving fixed penalty notices to children. 

To reinforce the messages, Kim conducted a series of school assemblies about the smokefree law and how it was enforced. Kim was joined by colleagues from smoking cessation services, providing health messages and where to seek help and advice if they wanted to quit smoking. The bus company also installed CCTV and where students were caught smoking and could be identified on film, parents were invited to a meeting at the school to help reinforce the health and legal messages. 

Kim said that these initiatives have proved to be positive as in the subsequent years, there have been no further incidents of young people smoking on the buses reported. 

“10 years on and most people are compliant with the ban,” said Kim. “But like with many councils across the country, we are now seeing a problem with shisha bars. 

“They are extremely popular, especially with young people, but carry many risks as not only do people sit there and smoke for a prolonged length of time but many people mistakenly think it’s not as bad as smoking cigarettes as it is herbal and the smoke is filtered through water. Added to the mix is that people share pipes and the bars are often poorly ventilated and in some cases, are located underground without the council even knowing about them.” 

In one case, a customer caught tuberculosis from sharing a pipe in a closed atmosphere and although the proprietor has since been prosecuted in this instance, many of the owners do not tend to follow regulations. Not only smoking-related ones but health and safety ones too. 

Kim, Garry and their colleagues have since changed their approach and now use expert evidence gathering to put a stop to rogue shisha bars opening, especially those who try to hide their activities. For example, when inspecting a property suspected of being a shisha bar, EHOs will check under sofas for mouth pieces and burns on seating from the coals, completing very detailed witness statements about the smoky atmosphere, taking pictures of heated coals etc. in order to build-up circumstantial evidence. 

Kim said: “With the shisha bars you’ve got to be one a step ahead, especially as they continually find new ways to get round the regulations.   

"We have learnt a lot from taking prosecutions over the years and being challenged on our evidence.  We now always check all around buildings outside and watch any outdoor areas when we try to enter premises to prove that any outdoor areas were not been used.  Thankfully though, due to publicity over prosecutions, people are now being upfront and going straight to the council about how to set-up a legal shisha bar to avoid any problems later on. 

“We’re also getting better at enforcement initiatives and gathering evidence, we also have an excellent working relationship with our local police officers, which goes to show that if you put good theory into practice and learn from your mistakes then you can tackle rogue shisha bars.” 






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