Alcohol is the most widely used drug in Australia, with 37.3% of Australians aged 14 years and over consume alcohol on a weekly basis1. In the workplace, approximately 90 per cent of the Australian workforce consumes alcohol6.
Alcohol impacts the workplace in many ways, and can have a negative effect on relationships, safety, and productivity.
In this article, some of the key impacts of alcohol consumption on a workplace will be outlined as well as a description of the rights and responsibilities if an employer in preventing such problems from happening.
Please note that this is a guide only and offers general information that is primarily based on the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004) (OHS Act). For further information about your workplace in particular, please contact the relevant authorities.
Negative Impacts of Alcohol abuse on Employees and at a Workplace
Alcohol can easily sabotage relationships, safety concerns and overall productivity level at a workplace. Excessive consumption of alcohol can hugely deter the health and well-being of employees and this can induce great negative impact on their familial and communal life as well.
The main negative impacts of alcohol include dimming ability to concentrate, focus, react and coordinate. It also slows down the decision-making power of an individual and these issues can have drastic implications as far as workplace safety is concerned. Most specifically employees working at safety critical jobs such as those that require operating of heavy machines or driving company vehicles are highly prone to negative consequences.
Occupational health and safety acts require employers to:
- Take all necessary steps that can ensure thorough workplace safety
- Take responsible care for ensuring their own and the safety of all their employees
1 in 10 workers say they have experienced the negative effects of a co-worker’s use of alcohol 2, 3
The client-employee, customer-employee and overall co-worker relationship can be badly affected due to alcohol. That is because
- Highly intoxicated persons can behave irresponsibly, irrationally, non-seriously and unprofessionally in front of clients, customers and co-workers
- Regular intense alcohol intoxication or hangovers encourage an individual to arrive late or not arrive at all which can become a nuisance for other co-worker who after a while may resent covering for that individual and this will generate feelings of animosity among employees
Reportedly, alcohol and other drugs cost Australian workplaces an estimated $6 billion per year in lost productivity, and a loss of 2.5 million days annually due to alcohol and other drug use4, at a cost of more than $680 million5.
Alcohol can affect productivity level at a workplace in various ways. For instance, people may fail to deliver their best performance just because they are
- Under the influence of alcohol
- Highly intoxicated
- Having alcohol related health issues and illness
- Going through troubles and difficulties in their personal life due to a friend or family member’s excessive reliance on alcohol
- Covering for an intoxicated co-worker
Production and resources may also get affected by alcohol because it can cause death or encourage employees to take an early retirement and this can reduce workforce productivity.
Factors that encourage alcohol issues at a workplace
Anxiety, stress and similar other factors may encourage alcohol consumption among employees. Such issues can be caused by:
- Long and tiring work shifts
- Complicated workplace equipment
- Hectic routine and highly demanding work requirements
- Noisy environment
- Highly risky jobs that may induce an injury or illness
- Poor job schedule and structure
- Boring environment
- Inadequate resources and unrealistic targets
- Insufficient training and inadequate support from supervisors
- Discrimination, harassment, bullying and/or victimization experienced at workplace
- Easy access to alcohol at workplace
- Peer pressure or cultural of encouraging alcohol during or after work shifts at a workplace
Your duties as an employer
The OHS Act does not specifically mention alcohol issues and legal obligations towards addressing alcohol issues only really emerge through the general provisions of “duty of care.” According to these provisions, employers have to take all possible reasonable steps that may ensure perfect health and safety of all their workers and other individuals who come under the authority of the employer.
This can include, for example, independent contractors and visitors, volunteers and/or bystanders who in one way or another are associated with the employers. Employers are bestowed with the duty of consulting with those employees who are or may get affected by health and safety concerns.
Provision of information, training and supervision
- Observe the conditions at the workplace that comes under their control as well as any noticeable change in the overall health of the employees (so far as is reasonably practicable)
- Create awareness among employees regarding health and safety requirements at workplace (in appropriate languages) concerning health and safety at the workplace. Employers must take the names of employees who have shown disregard towards safety concerns or employers have received complaints about their behaviour
- Maintain the record and every bit of related information about the health and safety of employees and only employ people who qualify the required criteria of occupational health and safety standards (so far as is reasonably practicable)
Consult with the employees
It is the duty of employers to regularly consult their elected health/safety representative if there are any or directly connect with the employees who are most likely to get affected by health and safety concerns especially those having an alcohol-related problems at work. This is beneficial in:
- Recognising or evaluating threats and risks to employee health and safety
- Making important decisions regarding the appropriate measures/procedures to be adopted for controlling risks towards health and safety and ensuring the adequacy of employee welfare facilities.
- Observing the overall health of employees
- Monitoring the working conditions that come under the employer’s control or management jurisdiction
- Providing adequate training and create awareness among employees
- Determining the membership of any health and safety committee
- Proposing strategies that can have positive impacts on the health and safety of employees
Preventing Potential Alcohol-related Issues and Risks at the Workplace
As far as employers are concerned, there are ample strategies that they can adopt to minimise and even prevent employees from potential alcohol issues and health risks so that the workplace is not affected.
To suit the need and situation of all sorts, employers need to be efficient in responsiveness and diverse strategies must be employed. For instance:
- Devise a thorough policy for workers and immediately inform them about the foundation, basics, outlines and procedures of addressing alcohol-related issues at the workplace.
- A comprehensive guide should be provided to each employee which must inform them about their specific roles and duties regarding workplace health and safety concerns
- Proper education and training should be provided that can assist employees in thwarting alcohol reliance or health-related issues
- Extending a helping hand always helps in such situations. Provide guidance, counselling and if necessary appropriate treatment to your employees to support them in the trying phase of their life.
- Consider introducing an alcohol testing policy in the workplace, either by doing it in-house with random alcohol breath testing with an appropriate workplace breathalyser, drug testing kits, or getting a workplace drug testing and breathalyser kit.
- Additionally, you may opt for a drug and alcohol testing platform. DT Manager allows companies to have full control of their testing procedures, and keeps a succinct record of past tests, drug field tests, and many more. You can check out DT Manager here.
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.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2014). National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2013. Canberra: AIHW. – See more at: https://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/topics/quick-statistics#sthash.sF3fW2wC.dpuf
- Laslett, A.M., Catalano, P., Chikritzhs, T., et al. (2010). The range and magnitude of alcohol’s harm to others. Fitzroy: AER Centre for Alcohol Policy Research.
- Dale, C.E., & Livingston, M. (2010). The burden of alcohol drinking on co-workers in the Australian workplace. Medical Journal of Australia, 193(3), 138-140.
- Manning, M., Smith, C. & Mazerolle, P. (2013). The societal costs of alcohol misuse in Australia. Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice. 454. Canberra: Institute of Criminology.
- Roche, A., Pidd, K. & Kostadinov, V. (2015). Alcohol – and drug-related absenteeism: a costly problem. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1753-6405.12414/full
- VicHealth. (2012). Reducing alcohol-related harm in the workplace. An evidence review: summary report. Victorian Heath Promotion Foundation, Melbourne, Australia.