Drug and Alcohol policyDrug and Alcohol Policy development

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. They 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.

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 as 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.

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 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 a effect on a workers reaction times.

In addition you can define acceptable and unacceptable behaviours during a workplace function that may have alcohol present.

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.

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.