April 27, 2021

Alcohol, drugs and workplace safety

Working from home with children playing

Are you concerned about alcohol and drug use in the workplace? 

On 28 April it’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work and Workers’ Memorial Day, a perfect opportunity to think about the impact of alcohol and drugs at your work.

How might alcohol or drugs affect staff? What are the risks? And how can you provide a safe and supportive workplace?

The cost of alcohol and other drugs to your workplace

One in 20 Australian workers admit to working under the influence of alcohol at some point in their career.1

Alcohol use contributes to 11% of workplace accidents and injuries, and alcohol-related absenteeism costs companies around $2 billion each year.2

Combining prevention policies with staff education and wellbeing services can support worker safety and reduce the impact of alcohol and drug use on workplaces. 

How risky is your workplace?

Environments linked to risky drinking include high stress conditions, social isolation, shift work, insecure employment, and experiences of discrimination, bullying, harassment, and conflict.3

Certain industries such as construction, financial services, transport, hospitality and other service industries have higher rates of workplace alcohol and other drug use, placing them at a greater risk of harms.1

Working from home

Because of COVID-19, working from home has now become the new normal for many people.

We know that Australians who are experiencing distress, anxiety and depression have reported using alcohol as a coping strategy.4 It has also been found that people who experience challenges with alcohol are even more vulnerable to using it as a coping mechanism during periods of high stress.5

During lockdowns across Australia between March and May 2020, one in five Australian households reported buying more alcohol than usual. In households where more alcohol was purchased:

  • 70% were drinking more alcohol than normal
  • 28% were drinking alcohol on their own more often
  • 34% said they were drinking alcohol daily.6

Changes in drinking and work habits, as well as increased uncertainty and stress, could mean there is the potential for some people to use alcohol during work hours at home.

How do alcohol and other drugs impact workplace safety?

Alcohol and other drug use, especially intense use, can affect a person not only while they are under the influence, but also in the days following.

Nursing a hangover, coming down off drugs, or simply being exhausted after a big weekend can impact a person’s ability to concentrate, react quickly, and make good decisions – regardless of the working environment.

This reduced performance can lead to mistakes that can cause serious injury – impacting not only the person affected by alcohol and other drugs but their co-workers too.

About a third of Australian workers have experienced negative effects from a colleague’s use of alcohol.7 This includes:

  • being involved in an accident or close call
  • reduced ability to do their job
  • having to work extra hours to cover for a co-worker
  • a co-worker taking one or more days off work.7

What can you do to support workplace safety?

Workplaces can take steps to protect their staff from alcohol and other drug harms.

  • Establish a clear policy about alcohol and other drugs in the workplace, including how incidents will be managed.
  • Offer wellbeing support, such as an Employee Assistance Program, which provides counselling to staff for issues such as stress, conflict and bullying.
  • Take steps to regularly educate staff about alcohol and other drugs, including potential impacts at work, at home, and to employees’ long-term health and wellbeing. You can find useful resources here.

For organisations with employees working from home, continue to provide information on safe work practices and existing policies and procedures for working from home.

Whether your staff work in high-risk environments or in the comfort of their own home, understanding the risks and taking steps to ensure people are well supported can make a real difference to reducing alcohol and other drug related harms in Australia.

  1. Pidd K, Roche AM, Buisman-Pijlman F. Intoxicated workers: findings from a national Australian survey. Addiction. 2011;106(9):1623-33.
  2. Pidd K, Roche A, Cameron J, Lee N, Jenner L, Duraisingam V. Workplace alcohol harm reduction intervention in Australia: Cluster non-randomised controlled trial. Drug and alcohol review. 2018;37(4):502-13.
  3. VicHealth. Reducing alcohol-related harm in the workplace (An evidence review: summary report). Melbourne, Australia. ; 2012.
  4. Australian Psychological Society. Stress & wellbeing: how Australians are coping with life. Melbourne: APS; 2015.
  5. North CS, Ringwalt CL, Downs D, Derzon J, Galvin D. Postdisaster course of alcohol use disorders in systematically studied survivors of 10 disasters. Archives of general psychiatry. 2011;68(2):173-80.
  6. FARE. Many Australians using more alcohol and worried about household drinking Deakin ACT: Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.; 2020.
  7. Dale CE, Livingston MJ. The burden of alcohol drinking on co-workers in the Australian workplace. 2010:138.

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