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February 16, 2017

Alcohol and other drugs in the workplace

This following information is a guide for employees about alcohol and drugs in the workplace. (If you are an employer, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) can assist you through its Workplace Services.)

If you are hungover or coming down from drugs at work, it can be just as bad as being intoxicated. You are less effective and productive; this can impact both your work and that of co-workers.

The impacts

The use of alcohol and other drugs can impact on workplaces in a number of ways, affecting relationships, safety and productivity.

The following statistics demonstrate the extent of this impact in Australia:

  • Alcohol and drugs cost Australian workplaces an estimated $6 billion per year in lost productivity.1
  • Recent research has estimated that 2.5 million days are lost annually due to drinking and drug use, at a cost of more than $680 million. 2
  • 1 in 10 workers say they have been affected by a co-worker’s misuse of alcohol. For example, a reduced ability to do their own job, involvement in an accident or close-call, and having to work extra hours to cover for a co-worker.3

But it’s only a hangover…

Alcohol

If you’ve had a big night, you may still be drunk the next day; this can make it dangerous to be at work.

Sobering up takes time. Hangover cures such as cold showers, doing exercise, strong coffee, or vomiting will not speed up the process. While these ‘cures’ may make you feel better, they won’t change your blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

Drugs

It can take several days to come down from drugs like ecstasy, ice and amphetamines. This means that drug usage on the weekend can still impact your work.

Can medication affect my work?

There is always a level of risk when using any drug including prescription or over-the-counter medications. For instance, benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium®) and strong painkillers (e.g. codeine) can impact your work. This is particularly the case for drugs you haven’t taken before. As drug reactions vary from person to person, it’s important to understand the possible side effects and monitor whether you are fit for work.

Follow your doctor’s advice when taking prescription drugs and discuss any side-effects and how this might impact on your work.

Further information about medication

Do I have a problem?

An alcohol or drug problem isn’t always measured by how much, how many or what type of drugs you use, but by how the drug affects your life and the lives of the people around you. And this is often a matter of personal perception.

Here are some examples of a drug problem:

  • Regularly returning from lunch a bit tipsy, then disturbing everyone in the office and making it harder for them to work.
  • Taking prescription medication for a long time, which causes memory problems, clumsiness and tiredness.
  • Taking ecstasy or drinking alcohol heavily on the weekend and then coming into work tired, irritable and moody.

Concerned about a co-worker?

If a co-worker’s use of alcohol or other drugs is affecting you, then they have a problem. However, they may not be aware of it, so you may need to talk to them or their manager.

Find out the facts

If you are concerned that a co-worker is drunk or high while at work, it is important to be very sure that the person is under the influence of drugs — and not unwell — before you take action. It is very difficult to know if someone is impaired by the use of drugs or if someone is misusing them. Read through the drug facts pages to learn more about the effects of different drugs.

If you are concerned that a co-worker’s drug use is affecting their work or the safety of others, it can be helpful to document instances as they occur.

Speak up

If your workplace has an alcohol and drug policy, follow the procedures outlined.

If your workplace does not have an alcohol policy, you may wish to discuss the issue with:

  • Your health and safety representative
  • A member of the health and safety or other formal workplace committee
  • A manager, supervisor or employer

If you choose to talk to your co-worker directly about your concerns, there is no easy way to begin the conversation. The following suggestions may help:

  • Talk to a counsellor, health professional or your workplace’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for advice on how to handle the situation.
  • Speak to a manager or supervisor about your concerns and seek their advice (you do not need to identify the co-worker).
  • It may be best to talk to the person away from the workplace and outside of working hours.
  • Explain how the person’s use of alcohol is affecting you and other people around them at work. Give concrete examples.
  • Try to remain calm and logical and stick to the point – refuse to be drawn into an argument.
  • Offer your support and encourage them to seek professional help. Provide them with information about available services. (See below under ‘Further information’.)

Employee responsibilities

It’s important to consider how your use of alcohol or drugs may impact your co-workers. The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 imposes a duty on all workers not to recklessly endanger others in the workplace.

Different industries and workplaces may have more specific rights and responsibilities for employers and employees detailed in a separate policy. For example, some industries and workplaces may require people driving vehicles to have a zero blood alcohol concentration. Others may have policies about testing employees for alcohol or drugs.

Make sure you are aware of your rights and responsibilities around alcohol within your workplace or industry.

Employer responsibilities

Your employer has a legal obligation to address alcohol and other drug issues in the workplace through the duty-of-care provisions in the OHS Act. These provisions require employers to take reasonable or practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of all workers, contractors, clients and others who could be affected by the actions of the employer.

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation works with employers to help them develop alcohol and drugs policies, train employees about alcohol and drugs, and how for instance to organise safe parties. If you think your workplace could benefit from these services, put your manager or human resources department in contact with the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s Workplace Services.

Further information

Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s Workplace Services team: Tel. 03 9611 6100 or visit adf.org.au/workplace

Unions: If you are in a union, you should contact them for assistance.

WorkSafe Victoria’s Advisory Service: Tel. 1800 136 089 (toll free).

Your local doctor, other health professional, or workplace Employee Assistance Program should be able to provide you with confidential advice or refer you to a more appropriate service.

DirectLine is a 24-hour telephone counselling and referral service for people in Victoria wanting help with alcohol or other drug related issues. Tel. 1800 888 236.

Counselling Online offers free alcohol and drug counselling online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visit counsellingonline.org.au.

References
  1. 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.
  2. Roche, A., Pidd, K. & Kostadinov, V. (2015). Alcohol – and drug-related absenteeism: a costly problem.
  3. Dale, C. & Livingston, M. (2010) The burden of alcohol drinking on co-workers in the Australian workplace, Medical Journal of Australia, 193(3), 138-140.