Alcohol Testing in the Workplace
Preventing alcohol problems at work
Recent research has shown that the most effective way to prevent alcohol-related problems at work is to develop and implement a workplace alcohol policy in consultation with everyone who will be affected by it. The aim of the policy should be to eliminate or reduce the hazards associated with alcohol use and work in a way that is consistent and fair to everyone. The policy should be part of an overall occupational health and safety strategy and focus on prevention, education, counselling and rehabilitation.
During the development of an alcohol policy, it is important to identify the factors at work that can contribute to harmful alcohol use and aim to eliminate or reduce them. Look at management style, work practices, shift work and deadlines, equipment design, general health and safety and whether there are issues of discrimination and/or harassment. Failure to address work factors will hamper the successful implementation of the policy.
Alcohol testing at work
In recent years, the issue of alcohol and drug testing at work using equipment such as breathalysers has been gaining prominence. For information on breathalysers for your workplace, feel free to contact Andatech.
Advocates of testing at work claim that random testing at work will reduce the impact of alcohol in the workplace. In reality, the introduction of alcohol or drug testing into a workplace raises a number of practical, legal and ethical issues and may create more problems than it solves.
WorkSafe Victoria provides the following advice regarding alcohol testing at work:
Workplace alcohol testing should only be undertaken where there are existing legislative provisions or where employers, health and safety representatives, workers and unions formally agree that it is warranted, or where it might be held to be reasonable in the circumstances.
Where the workplace parties are in agreement that making testing available may be appropriate in certain circumstances (where for example, a risk assessment has identified high risks involved in undertaking certain activities while under the influence of alcohol), this should be implemented as part of a comprehensive alcohol program with appropriate safeguards, clear policy and procedures, and provision of education and counselling.
Is testing required in any industries?
There are legislative provisions currently in place for specific occupational groups in relation to alcohol consumption in the workplace. For example, legislation provides for the protection of public safety in transport (covering commercial road transport, the railways, civil aviation, marine transport) through restrictions on the use of alcohol and drugs, and mandatory testing.
The Victorian Occupational Health and Safety (Mines) Regulations 2002 require the operator of a mine to develop and implement strategies to protect persons at the mine from any risk to their health and safety arising from the consumption of alcohol or the use of drugs by any person, including control measures on the presence and use of alcohol and drugs at the mine during working hours.
Neither the Victorian Mines regulations, nor the Victorian OHS Act, require or mention alcohol testing at work. However, many employers have taken the right step by introducing their own alcohol policy as a preventative measures, using reliable tools such as industrial breathalysers or fixed type breathalysers to test employees in the workplace.
Read more on workplace drug and alcohol testing policy tips >
Can an employee refuse to be tested?
An employee may refuse to be tested. However, depending on the nature of the work and any relevant law and/or existing agreement between the employer and an employee, the refusal may or may not have consequences. If an employee refuses to be tested it should not be assumed that they are intoxicated.
Victoria has laws which govern how organisations may collect, use and disclose personal information. These laws are the Privacy Act 1988 (Commonwealth), Information Privacy Act 2000 (Victoria), and Health Records Act 2001 (Victoria).
All information about employees is strictly confidential, and the Victorian OHS Act is also careful to protect the privacy of employees.
Any medical information collected about an employee should only be divulged to relevant persons, in confidence, for the purposes of managing health and safety risks.
Further, such information should only be given where the person has agreed or is not identified by the information.
Read tips on implementing a workplace drug and alcohol policy, or learn more about drug testing in the workplace.
For information and assistance with drug testing Australia workplace employees, be sure to talk to our workplace drug testing experts on 1300 800 200 (AU) or +613 8899 6900 (International) for a free consultation.