Drug and Alcohol policyDrug and Alcohol Policy

A well-structured Drug and Alcohol Policy, properly implemented and monitored will greatly assist in reducing risk in a workplace. Research shows a relationship between people who are dependent on alcohol and increased mental health issues. People with mental health issues may drink more alcohol to self-medicate. This can lead to longer-term anxiety and depression. People who regularly use alcohol can become dependent on the drug.

People may feel they need alcohol to go about their normal activities like working, studying and socialising, or just to get through the day. They may also develop a tolerance to it, which means they need to drink larger amounts of alcohol to get the same effect. People who develop a tolerance and dependence on alcohol experience more alcohol-related harms.

Alcohol and drugs can affect a person’s ability to work safely. This includes medicines that are prescribed or over the counter. As a person conducting a business or undertaking, you have a duty to keep workers and your workplace safe. There’s a legal blood alcohol level in some jobs, including road and rail transport, maritime and mining occupations. The law may prohibit a worker from being affected by any drugs – legal or illegal. Some companies have policies to test their workers for alcohol and illicit substances, particularly if a worker could kill or seriously injure themselves or someone else.

Industry Research and Statistics into Drug and Alcohol use.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has published a number of reports exploring the impact of drug and alcohol policies on workplace safety and productivity. The 2017 AIHW report ‘Alcohol, Other Drugs and Workplace Safety’, found that alcohol and other drug use has been linked to an increased risk of workplace injuries and fatalities, as well as a decrease in workplace productivity. It also found that having an effective drug and alcohol policy can help to reduce the risk of these incidents. The AIHW also found that the use of illicit drugs in the workplace is increasing. In 2015, 7.3% of Australians reported having used an illicit drug in the past 12 months, compared to 5.8% in 2013.

The AIHW also reported that alcohol-related workplace injury and death costs the Australian economy an estimated $6.8 billion per year. The AIHW reports indicate that having an effective drug and alcohol policy is important in order to reduce workplace injuries, fatalities, and lost productivity due to alcohol and other drug use.

Other studies relating to Drug and Alcohol issues.

• A study published in the Journal of Substance Use & Misuse found that workplace drug and alcohol policies are associated with lower rates of marijuana use among employees and that policies that are enforced more strictly are associated with lower rates of alcohol use.
• According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, the majority of employers (92%) report having drug and alcohol policies in place.
• Research published in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that the presence of drug testing in the workplace is associated with lower rates of substance use among employees.
• A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that employers with drug and alcohol policies in place experienced fewer workplace accidents and injuries.
• A survey by the National Safety Council found that employers who had drug and alcohol policies in place reported an average of 14.4% fewer workplace injuries than those who did not have a policy.

Highlights Impacting Workplace Safety and Productivity

• Drug and alcohol policies can help to reduce substance use among employees, which can improve workplace safety and productivity.
• Drug testing can be used to identify and remove individuals who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol while on the job, which can help to improve safety and productivity.
• Employers with drug and alcohol policies in place are more likely to experience fewer workplace accidents and injuries, which can help to improve safety and productivity.
• Drug and alcohol policies can also help to reduce absenteeism and improve employee morale, both of which can improve productivity.

Considerations before implementing a Drug and Alcohol Policy

If you are considering implementing a Drug and Alcohol policy in your workplace, there are some considerations that should be worked through prior to the introduction of the policy. Though there is case law available that has supported employer’s decisions to terminate workers, there are many cases where the worker has overturned this decision due to poor design and implementation of the policy.

However, before getting to a court of law to determine if a termination relating to Drugs & Alcohol was just, employers should ensure that their company’s drug and alcohol policies are developed through a consultative approach to assist in defining all the issues and how the process will evolve should a breach be identified. WHS Qld provide some guidance on this.

Contents of a Drug and Alcohol Policy

The Drug and Alcohol Policy should
– clearly define in simple terms what is unacceptable behaviour, including any forms of disciplinary behaviour such as dismissal.
– be part of a structured communication process that ensures a consistent message is given to all workers including new workers, contractors and visitors to site.
– consider precautions to be implemented that consider ‘False Positives’ and even the possibility of faulty measuring equipment used as part of the initial alcohol / drug testing.

These alcohol / drug testing units are becoming more precise however they are only indicators of a ‘Nonnegative’ and that a ‘Positive’ result is only provided from the NATA testing agency. Management reacting too early; victimising or even seen to be punishing a worker at this early stage should be cautioned. The workers’ rights and protections e.g., right to privacy and confidentiality must be upheld at all times and be part of any training session relating to drug and alcohol in the workplace.

The most important component of a drug policy is the definition of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour and practice regarding alcohol and drug use. It should clearly state if you are going to implement limits or a zero-tolerance policy for any and all use of illegal substances in the workplace.

It can also dictate that no employee should arrive to work under the influence (impaired) of alcohol and drugs. Consider if you are to implement impairment considerations for prescribed drugs as these can also have an effect on a workers reaction time. In addition, you can define acceptable and unacceptable behaviours during a workplace function that may have alcohol present.

What support is available for persons struggling with substance abuse?

  • The National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline (1800 250 015) directs you to your local state alcohol and drug information service for free and confidential advice — as well as referral to services.
  • Drug Help from the Australian Government offers information and resources.
  • Positive Choices from the Australian Government also provides information, resources and drug education.
  • Al-Anon Family Groups Australia offers support to the family and friends of someone struggling with alcohol.
  • Self-Help Addiction Recourse Centre (SHARC) provides professional help and practical support to people who are looking after a family member living with addiction.
  • Cracks in the Ice from the Australian Government has information on crystal methamphetamine (‘ice’) use.
  • Counselling Online is a free, text-based counseling service for people seeking help for their own or a family member’s drug use.
  • Drug Info provides information about alcohol and other drugs.
  • Family Drug Support offers information and support to the families of people struggling with drugs and alcohol — including a 24-hour support hotline (1300 368 186).
  • ReachOut provides information, support and advice to young people.
  • Lifeline (13 11 14) provides 24-hour phone and online counseling and support.

Conclusion for a Drug and Alcohol policy

A good drug and alcohol policy must also lay out the consequences of workers actions and behaviours in clear, digestible language. This must be also balanced with clear directions to supervisors and managers in the actions to be taken and how a worker is treated with respect. The Work Health and Safety Officer course (WHSO) includes information on Drugs and Alcohol in the workplace requirements for workplaces along with numerous other safety related topics.

In short when implementing any workplace policy, employers need to ensure the policy is clear, widely and consistently disseminated in an easily to understand format to assist in avoiding any confusion or a HR issue.

If you are interested in our WHS Consultancy services, you can contact David, Andrew or Mark to discuss your Health and Safety Issues.

We have qualified and certified Safety Consultants that can assist you in your business and offer a range of WHS consulting services along with general and specific health and safety training courses.

Contact us today for an obligation free quote on any of our services.