What is the problem with alcohol and other drugs in the workplace?
The use of alcohol or other drugs (prescribed and illicit) on their own or combined may impair a worker's ability to:
- exercise judgement
- maintain coordination and motor control
- stay alert.
This impairment may not be just while ‘under the influence’. The ‘hangover effects’ can endure beyond the direct presence of the drug and create risks. So even if a worker returns a zero alcohol or drug level, they may still be impaired. This can increase the risk of injury to the affected individual or others in the workplace.
What can happen?
Hazards or hazard factors to consider in relation to increased risks of injury or harm if workers are impaired by alcohol or other drugs include:
- operation of machinery
- driving in the course of work
- situations where concentration or motor coordination is relied on to carry out a job safely
- use of hazardous substances
- performing duties as part of a team.
If alcohol or drug issues arise, they should be addressed through the site’s alcohol and other drugs policy and a systematic risk management process.
Alcohol and other drugs policy and procedures
The guideline on alcohol and other drugs at the workplace is a useful starting point for situations where alcohol or other drugs may have occupational safety and health implications.
Strategies recommended by the guideline include:
- developing an alcohol and other drugs policy and supporting procedures for all levels of staff, and communicating these
- providing information and education on the risks of such use.
The risk to all people involved can be reduced by having an alcohol and other drugs policy in place that sets out clearly how to address safety and health risks arising from people impaired by alcohol or other drugs.
The benefits of an alcohol and other drugs policy and supporting procedures include:
- meeting the general duty of care obligations
- providing some certainty when situations arise
- demonstrating management commitment to a safe workplace and informing employees and others on acceptable behaviour
- facilitating peer support.
It is recommended that drug and alcohol management be integrated into the site’s overall health and safety program.
Consultation with workers
Workplace policies and procedures that are developed in consultation with workers and safety and health representatives help to avoid confusion and uncertainty. A participative approach is more likely to ensure the successful implementation of policies and procedures.
If testing is involved, part of the consultation process with workers should relate to:
- the type of drug testing to be used, such as saliva or urine testing
- whether the intent is to measure impairment or to detect residual traces of drugs
- whether there will be a random or ‘for cause’ testing regime
- the procedures to be followed if an employee is suspected of being impaired by drugs or alcohol
- the consequences of testing positive for drugs or alcohol.
Additional reference material is available from Safe Work Australia. The publication Work-Related Alcohol and Drug Use: A Fit for Work Issue provides some good case-law and statistical data information from across Australia.
Coping with work-related stress
The use of alcohol and other drugs has been identified as a way some people try to cope with work-related stress. To provide support for those working away from home who are dealing with this stress, the Mental Health Commission has a State-wide, 24/7 telephone support, information and referral service through the Alcohol and Drug Support Services.
The support service is tailored to those working away from home (e.g. FIFO, DIDO), their families and employers. The service should assist those concerned about their own or others’ alcohol and other drug use, and mental health and wellbeing.
For information and support with alcohol and other drug-related issues, contact:
Phone: (08) 9442 5000
Country toll free (landlines): 1800 198 024
Healthier Workplace WA
Free programs and resources are available online for workplaces ready to implement changes and encourage healthy behaviour. They include help to develop policies, action plans and strategies, and the opportunity for health workplaces to be recognised.
Contact Healthy Workplace WA to receive one-to-one support to get started, and implement and evaluate a workplace health and wellbeing policy.