The policy’s aims and procedures should be clearly communicated to employees openly and honestly. Steps should also be taken to overcome any anxiety among employees.
Alcohol- and drug-related problems cost more than $3.5 billion annually. These problems include not only lost productivity and absenteeism, but also injuries and fatalities. An estimated 5 to 10 per cent of workplace deaths and 25 per cent of workplace injuries are related to drugs and alcohol. What may be more alarming is the high prevalence of alcohol use in the construction, financial, trade, and hospitality industries. Over one in four workers in construction drink at a moderate to high risk level, while workers in construction and mining have the highest reported level of hangovers (4.9 per cent) – twice the industry average. Across all industries, 0.9 per cent of workers self-reported using drugs at work, whereas 2 per cent admitted to attending work under the influence of drugs.
Implementing a workplace alcohol and drug policy is becoming more common and its importance more prominent with the growing influence of drugs and alcohol in the workplace. While it is crucial for companies to start introducing workplace drug and alcohol policies, too many are doing so inappropriately by focusing on control and punishment when the emphasis should be on safety.
While breathalysers and drug testing kits can effectively test for the presence of alcohol or drugs in the system, workplaces also need to remember the risks of the after-effects of alcohol and drugs on the body.
When introducing a workplace alcohol and drug policy, companies should tailor it to their business and requirements. The policy should identify the potential hazards associated with the use of alcohol and drugs in the workplace, the risks associated with them, and the strategies needed to control those risks.
The policy’s aims and procedures should be clearly communicated to employees openly and honestly. Steps should also be taken to overcome any anxiety among employees. The blood alcohol limit, procedures, and consequences should be clearly defined, and OHS staff should seek advice before purchasing a workplace breathalyser or drug testing kit. The breathalyser used should be appropriate for the volume of testing needed to be done, and OHS staff must be trained in using them.
A workplace breathalyser should be Australian Certified AS3547 certified for legality and assurance of quality, and regularly calibrated to the manufacturer’s guidelines to maintain its accuracy. For workplaces, fuel cell breathalysers such as the AlcoSense Prodigy are recommended as they are more specific for ethyl alcohol and give fewer false readings from substances such as ketones. They are more accurate and stable even after multiple testing, and are longer lasting, requiring calibration less often than semi-conductor breathalysers. Fuel cell breathalysers come in portable sizes, such as the Prodigy, or as fixed, wall-mounted breathalysers, such as the AlcoSense SoberPoint.
While breathalysers and drug testing kits can effectively test for the presence of alcohol or drugs in the system, workplaces also need to remember the risks of the aftereffects of alcohol and drugs on the body. For example, workers could present with hangovers – the unpleasant physiological effects usually experienced the morning after a night of heavy drinking. Workers would present with zero blood alcohol content, but judgement and task performance would be impaired, putting workplace safety at risk. Therefore, staff should be able to identify a hangover and include in their policy actions to be taken when an employee is found to have these symptoms.
While a policy is unlikely to completely eliminate alcohol and drug use in the workplace, disregarding its importance is careless and negligent, especially in industries with high levels of workplace hazards. Even if alcohol and drugs do not pose a current risk at your workplace, developing and implementing a policy can educate employees and also deter future occurrences. Not only is the employee accountable, but it is also the employer’s responsibility to review their duty of care to all their employees, whether or not they are under the influence.