April 19, 2023
Alcohol, drugs and workplace safety
April 28 is World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2023, with this year’s theme being ‘a safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental principle and right at work’.
This is a great opportunity to think about the impact of alcohol and other drugs (AOD) in the workplace.
How might AOD affect employees? How serious are the risks? And what does a safe and supportive workplace look like?
The cost of alcohol and other drugs to the workplace
One in 20 Australian workers have admitted to working under the influence of alcohol at some point in their career, and one in 50 have used other drugs in the workplace.1
Alcohol use contributes to 11% of workplace accidents and injuries.
And, alcohol-related time off work costs companies around $2 billion each year.2
Reducing AOD use in the workplace and providing staff with education and wellbeing services can support worker safety and reduce the impact of AOD on the work environment.
What type of workplaces are linked to increased AOD use?
Some industries have higher rates of workplace alcohol and other drug use than others, including:
- financial services
- hospitality.1, 3
Workplace factors that can increase the risk of AOD use include:
- availability or access to alcohol (physical and social)
- insecure employment
- the culture of the organisation (e.g. heavy alcohol use in the workplace allowed, work cultures revolve around drinking for team building or celebration)
- a lack of rules and regulations around AOD use in the workplace
- environment and working conditions (including long hours, shift work, isolated working patterns, low-level supervision, poor health and safety practices and lack of access to services)
- poor workplace relationships and conflict
- work stress
- discrimination, bullying and harassment.3
How do alcohol and other drugs impact workplace safety?
Alcohol and other drug use, especially high-risk use, can affect a person while they’re impaired and in the days following.
Nursing a hangover, coming down from drugs, or simply being exhausted after a big weekend can impact a person’s ability to concentrate, react quickly, and make good decisions.4-6
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 about prescription drugs?
Workers may use pharmaceutical drugs to treat pain or cope with mental or physical ill health symptoms. If these medicines have side effects, or are used incorrectly, it can impact performance and compromise workplace safety.8
These risks can increase if workers:
- are in safety sensitive situations (e.g. operating heavy machinery or driving)
- haven’t used the medication before
- are taking more than one type of medication
- drink alcohol with certain medications.8
Workers can speak with a GP about potential side effects of their medication, and inform their manager or supervisor if there are any impacts on workplace safety.
What can employers do to support workplace safety?
Employers can take several steps to protect their staff from alcohol and other drug harms.
It’s important to establish clear policies about alcohol and other drugs in the workplace, including how incidents will be managed.
Random or once-off alcohol/drug testing is less effective than a comprehensive policy.9
It’s important to offer staff wellbeing support, such as an Employee Assistance Program, which provides counselling to staff for a range of issues.
It can also help to take regular steps to educate staff about alcohol and other drugs, including potential impacts at work, at home, and to employees’ health and wellbeing.
Your Worklife has a number of helpful resources, visit: worklife.flinders.edu.au
For organisations with employees who are continuing to work from home, it’s important to extend these policies and safe work practices to the home environment.
If any staff need further help/support, the following services are available:
- National Alcohol and Drug Hotline (1800 250 015): Confidential telephone counselling, information and referral service for the general public, concerned family and friends, students and health professionals.
- Path2Help: Intuitive online tool designed to help you find support and information tailored to the specific needs of your loved ones who use alcohol and other drugs.
- BeyondBlue (1300 22 4636): Free online and telephone helpline for people with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues.
- Mensline (1300 78 99 78): Free professional 24/7 telephone counselling support for men with concerns about mental health, anger management, family violence, addiction, relationships, stress and wellbeing.
- Pidd K, Roche AM, Buisman-Pijlman F. Intoxicated workers: findings from a national Australian survey. Addiction [Internet]. 2011 [03.04.2023]; 106(9):[1623-33 pp.]. Available from: https://adf.on.worldcat.org/oclc/5153512281.
- Pidd K. Workplace alcohol harm reduction intervention in Australia: Cluster non-randomised controlled trial. Drug and Alcohol Review [Internet]. 2018 [03.04.2023]; 37:[502–13 pp.]. Available from: https://adf.on.worldcat.org/oclc/7587467158.
- VicHealth. Reducing alcohol-related harm in the workplace (An evidence review: summary report). Melbourne: Victorian Heath Promotion Foundation,; 2012 [03.04.2023]. Available from: https://researchoutput.csu.edu.au/ws/portalfiles/portal/9874553/VH_Alcohol_related_harm_08.pdf.
- Ames GM, Grube JW, Moore RS. The relationship of drinking and hangovers to workplace problems: an empirical study. Journal of Studies on Alcohol [Internet]. 1997 [04.04.2023]; 58(1):[37-47 pp.]. Available from: https://www.jsad.com/doi/abs/10.15288/jsa.1997.58.37.
- Campbell A. The Australian Illicit Drug Guide: Every Person's Guide to Illicit Drugs--Their Use, Effects and History, Treatment Options and Legal Penalties: Black Inc; 2001 [07.02.2023]. Available from: https://adf.on.worldcat.org/oclc/48404595.
- Brands B, Sproule B, Marshman J. Drugs and Drug Abuse. Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation; 1998 [22.02.2023]. Available from: https://adf.on.worldcat.org/oclc/38900581
- Dale CE, Livingston MJ. The burden of alcohol drinking on co-workers in the Australian workplace. Medical Journal of Australia [Internet]. 2010 [03.04.2023]; 193(3):[138-40 pp.]. Available from: https://adf.on.worldcat.org/oclc/7927309996.
- Your WorkLife. Pharmaceuticals: fact sheet. Flinders University: National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA); 2020 [04.04.2023]. Available from: https://worklife.flinders.edu.au/about-alcohol-and-other-drugs/fact-sheet-2.
- Pidd K, Kostadinov V, Roche A. Do workplace policies work? An examination of the relationship between alcohol and other drug policies and workers’ substance use. International Journal of Drug Policy [Internet]. 2016 [04.04.2023]; 28:[48-54 pp.]. Available from: https://adf.on.worldcat.org/oclc/5995792025.