Drugs and Alcohol at Work- A Cocktail for Disaster

In Australia, the use of alcohol is a significant influence on the health and wellbeing of workers. According to Comcare, research reveals:

Around 60% of individuals who consume drugs and alcohol at harmful levels are in full time employment

Alcohol and drug use among employees and their family members can be an expensive problem for businesses.

Alcoholism and drug dependence can impact the workplace in four key ways:

  1. Increased Injuries/accident rates - Up to 15% of workplace injuries worldwide are attributable to drug and alcohol use
  2. Premature death/fatal accidents- In addition to increasing the frequency of injuries, drug and alcohol abuse can increase their severity. Lack of focus, nausea and other side effects of alcohol and/or drugs, employees can be at higher risk of being in or causing fatal accidents.
  3. Absenteeism/extra sick leave- Alcohol related absenteeism is very costly to Australian organisations and often occurs when a worker has consumed a large amount of alcohol the previous day
  4. Loss of productivity - The economic cost of alcohol use in Australia is estimated at over $4.5billion per year with lost workplace production accounting for the largest proportion of this cost

There are multiple factors that could contribute to the misuse of alcohol and other drugs including grief, gambling, health concerns, corporate entertaining, long working hours, tight deadlines, family and relationship problems however, everyone in the workplace has a role to play in occupational health and safety.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, the ultimate responsibility for providing a safe workplace rests with the employer.

So, what can employers do to protect their staff from the risks of drug and alcohol related injuries and accidents?

Develop a drug and alcohol policy in consultation with employees.

Workplace drug and alcohol policies should provide a clear documented guide regarding the workplaces stance on drug and alcohol issues in relation to the workplace and define the role of employees, supervisors and management in dealing with alcohol related work issues.

According to Safework New South Wales, matters to consider when developing a policy include:

  • the standards of behaviour required to comply with the policy
  • the value of senior management commitment to the policy and for creating workplace
  • awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol and other drugs
  • the factors in the workplace that may contribute to harmful drug and alcohol use
  • early intervention: the earlier a problem is addressed, the better the chance of
  • successful management
  • the type of counselling and support services that are most appropriate for the workplace
  • the education, information and training needs of managers, supervisors and employees
  • the types of disciplinary action that are suitable for the workplace in question.
Drug and Alcohol testing

Employers often seek the right to be able to randomly test employees in an attempt to reduce the accidents in the workplace caused by potential drunkenness and/or drug-effected employees as part of the occupational health and safety policy.

The right to drug test is dependent on the potential hazardous nature of the work in a particular workplace, together with the obligation imposed on an employer by state or territory occupational health and safety legislation.

Education and awareness on the effects of drugs and alcohol

Employees that are well informed about the impacts of alcohol and other drug use on the workplace are better able to help maintain effective health and safety practices at work.

As part of your drug and alcohol policy we recommend developing some training material and education for your employees about drugs and alcohol and the impact and risk it can post to safe work practices.

You will need to determine what your workplace needs in relation to training and education, as well as and the objectives of the training, and decide on who needs to undergo training (i.e . all employers, supervisors only etc.) and at what point of their employment.

Some suggested topics for training include:

  • Understanding the impact of alcohol on the workplace.
  • Why your workplace has an alcohol and other drugs policy.
  • Why organisations conduct workplace alcohol testing.
  • Understanding how alcohol is processed by the body.
  • Why some people feel the effects quicker than others.
  • Sobering up—there is no magical cure
  • Hangovers and impairment—How drinking the night before can affect you the next day.
  • Identifying risks in the workplace
  • What you can do to prevent alcohol related harm in your workplace.
  • What can happen if there is an incident where alcohol is involved.
  • How to reduce the risk of alcohol and other drug related harms occurring at workplace functions.
  • Understanding the legal ramifications of alcohol and other drug related incidents in the workplace.
  • How to respond if you suspect someone is under the influence and unfit for work.

 For more information as to how you can implement safe work practices, contact us here.

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