Because of the effects alcohol has on the body, its use at the workplace can be a concern for all parties involved, including employees, employers, customers and clients alike. According to Safe Work Australia, everyone in the workplace has work health and safety (WHS) duties under the model WHS Act. One is that workers must be fit and well enough to carry out their duties and must not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs while on duty nor use alcohol or illegal drugs at work.
Using alcohol and/or drugs at the workplace can lead to detrimental issues explained below.
Risk of alcohol use at the workplace
Around 11% of injuries and accidents that happen at the workplace involve alcohol, with alcohol-related absenteeism costing organisations across Australia around $2 billion annually. Depending on the nature of work, alcohol use could sometimes result in lethal mistakes, especially in risky occupations that involve working from heights or handling heavy machinery.
From 2017 to 2021, the transport, postal and warehousing industry recorded the most number of worker fatalities in Australia at 252 fatalities. Within the 5-year period mentioned, 335 fatalities across all industries were due to vehicle collisions.
Apart from the apparent risk of death and injury as a result of consuming alcohol or drugs while on duty, other risks of alcohol use at the workplace include the impairment or altering of
- Decision-making skills
- Reaction times
Not to mention, if an employee is found guilty of consuming alcohol at the workplace or is performing their duties while under the influence of alcohol, they could face severe punishments, including suspension or even termination.
Causes of alcohol use at the workplace
Drinking is a common coping mechanism to stress, whether it be stress that stems from the workplace, from home or a combination of both. Apart from stress, below are some common causes of workplace drinking.
Alcohol is dubbed a social drug, and many people see it as a way to socialise with their colleagues or clients. Unfortunately, this can also normalise the culture of drinking at the workplace and lead to risky and inappropriate behaviour.
As a performance enhancer
Industries like entertainment or hospitality see alcohol as a way to enhance performance or improve social skills.
Some incidents of alcohol use at the workplace could be attributed to uncontrollable alcoholism, which is often characterised by binge drinking and day drinking. When a person suffers from alcoholism, they no longer have control over how much they drink and can often drink at unconventional places and times, including the workplace.
The legal implications of consuming alcohol at the workplace could vary from one organisation to the next, depending on their respective policies. However, some general legal implications include
- The model WHS Act – employers or persons conducting a business must ensure the health and safety of workers and others at the workplace. This might also include alcohol and drug testing at the workplace.
- Employment law – alcohol use at the workplace could violate an employer’s policies which could lead to disciplinary action, including termination.
- Occupational health and safety law – industries, including mining and construction, strictly prohibit the use of alcohol as there is a high risk of accidents and injuries. Substantial legal consequences await employees found guilty.
Employee assistance programmes
Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are confidential services utilised by employers to ensure employees and their families have access to professional assistance for both work and personal-related issues. They are often seen as a voluntary benefit offered by employers to help deal with various mental health issues, including stress, anxiety, depression or substance abuse.
The goal of EAPs is to provide employees with the support and resources to address personal and work-related issues early on before they become severe issues that could affect their job performance and overall well-being.
EAPs are typically free for employees to use, and they are not required to disclose their use of the service to supervisors or managers.
If you or a mate of yours is going through trouble with alcohol at work, it’s best to speak to a counsellor at your company’s EAP to get the right advice and solutions to handle the issue before it gets worse.
If an EAP is not available in your place of work, consider speaking to Lifeline, Australia’s 24-hour crisis support hotline.
For employers, accurate drug and alcohol testing is essential in ensuring your workplace is a safe space for your employees, customers and clients alike. Andatech offers a wide range of industrial breathalysers and drug test kits to help create a safer working environment. Learn more about our services and how we can help make a lasting impact on your workplace and society.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general reference only. Please seek advice from professionals according to your business’s needs.
Written by Jaka Exstrada