Managing the Dangers of Drugs and Alcohol & Intoxication in the Workplace

For employers dealing with any illness amongst their staff can be a difficult process to manage. Drugs and alcohol abuse can be two issues that are particularly difficult to deal with for employers. It’s important to understand your responsibilities, in terms of Health and Safety legislation, when approaching these issues and also understanding how to deal with any drug or alcohol related matters sensitively and tactfully. The first, perhaps most important, aspect to understand is that substance misuse should be classed as an illness. Addiction to both drugs and alcohol is often a symptom of other issues but it has a physiological basis and this can be tackled with appropriate help.

The Legislation

Both types of substance abuse can cause poor productivity, absenteeism and can pose a risk of accidents that can affect the individuals concerned, their colleagues and the wider public. Certain industries hold specific risks; any driving related jobs, including public transport operations, can be affected if workers are unfit for their roles due to either alcohol or substance misuse. Several areas of legislation cover issues around substance misuse. The key primary legislation is the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999). Additional legislation in the form of the Road Traffic Act (1988) also applies to employers and employees who, as part of their role, are required to drive. Under the latter legislation employers are required to ensure that their workers are fit for the role and not under the influence of either drugs or alcohol.

Dealing with Alcohol Issues

Employers in any industry or sector should plan and implement an alcohol policy. The main aims of this policy should focus on how your company requires employees to manage their alcohol consumption and how to establish if a problem with alcohol is apparent. In addition, your policy needs to outline how problem drinking will be addressed and what help will be offered. Normally appropriate help will include referral to drug and alcohol counselling services. The policy should treat problem drinking as a health issue, but it may be necessary to ultimately manage the issue as a disciplinary matter. This should not be your first reaction, but your policy should establish at what point this may become appropriate.

Drug Use in the Workplace and the Law

Drug use is covered by the same legislation as alcohol misuse at work; however the Misuse of Drugs ACT 1971 is also relevant for employers. Unless drugs have been prescribed, it is an offence under this act for employers to allow the use of drugs (or the production of them) on their premises. The Road Traffic Act also applies, and no person under the influence of illegal drugs must be allowed to drive professionally. Some prescribed medication can also affect the ability to drive and/or operate machinery and it is the employer’s responsibility to manage any associated risks. Again, a clear policy should be adopted in relation to drug misuse. This should focus on help rather than punishment or dismissal (as with alcohol related issues). It is important that workers are aware of both policies and, in the case of drug management policies, it should be made clear that possession or dealing of drugs while at work will be reported to the police.

Screening Policies

Drug and Alcohol testing or screening is often used by employers and may be particularly relevant for employees who are expected to drive as part of their role. If you choose to adopt a screening policy there are several factors that you will need to consider. Screening can help to manage risks but the information collected can be sensitive and careful planning of how to handle, store or dispose of any data (including who has access to the records) must be made.

Drugs and Alcohol Testing

It has been estimated that drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace costs the UK more than £2billion per annum. Alcohol and drug abuse combined account for an estimated 14 million lost working days. As a result, drug and alcohol testing in the workplace is becoming increasingly prevalent in the UK.

Drugs and alcohol alter a person’s body functions, behaviour, personality and, therefore, work performance. When an employee is impaired by drugs, or alcohol, the potential for error is estimated to increase tenfold. Employee drugs and alcohol testing is intended to ensure workplace safety, security and productivity.

A Closer Look at the Dangers of Using Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace

Not only does abusing drugs and alcohol in the workplace lead to serious health problems, anyone who is intoxicated in the workplace can be a hazard to themselves and others. It is not only illegal drugs that can cause problems in the workplace. Also, completely legal drugs such as alcohol and prescription drugs can be abused which can also cause problems.

Taking drugs and drinking alcohol alters your perception and your abilities, which can have a serious effect in your ability to perform your job correctly and safely. If you come to work under the influence of drugs, this can impair your abilities and your performance and it might even lead to you taking dangerous risks in the workplace or putting others at risk.

This can be a very dangerous situation for drivers, because they are in control of a vehicle and a mistake can lead to serious injury and death for them and their passengers. Also, the same applies to machine operators, construction workers or anyone else who is operating heavy machinery on their job. Also, it is a serious issue for emergency staff and doctors – because a mistake in this profession can cause serious illness, injury or even death for the patient.

Also, employees being intoxicated by drugs and alcohol in the workplace can cause damage to the reputation of the company and the customer relations.

Alcohol and Drugs Have No Place at Work

Unless they are required for a medical condition, drugs and alcohol have no place at work. Of course, your employer will not interfere with your own personal life and if you choose to drink on the weekends that is your decision. Many people who drink or use recreational drugs on the weekend do not perform any differently at their jobs as a result or take more time off for sick leave.

However, the problem occurs when the person’s health begins to suffer or they start to take more time off work because of the effects of the drugs or alcohol.

What is the Difference Between Recreational Use and Misuse?

So when does the line become crossed between having a few drinks with friends on the weekend and having a serious problem? Substance misuse is when the consumption of drugs and alcohol becomes a problem in the user’s life. When it comes to alcohol, this usually includes regular heavy drinking or binge drinking. The use of alcohol or drugs becomes misuse when a person uses the substance so often or in such quantities that they need it in order to function in everyday life. This is when the substance abuse develops into an addiction. When the individual is addicted, their main focus in day to day life will be to obtain more of the substance in order to feel stable.

Those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol will find that their work performance is affected by the addiction. Also, they might have to take more time off work and they can develop mental health issues. When an employee comes to work while under the influence of alcohol and drugs, they are putting themselves at risk as well as the safety of their colleagues.

Why an Employer Should Develop a Drugs and Alcohol Policy

Every employer should put into place a drugs and alcohol policy that will outline how this issue is dealt with in the workplace. Employers will learn how to perform a risk assessment and create a policy like this in their health and safety training courses. Creating a drugs and alcohol policy will make everything clear and ensure that issues are dealt with appropriately, so that support can be given to workers who have a problem. A drugs and alcohol policy should not be part of a disciplinary policy.

It is important that the health and safety policy regarding alcohol in the workplace should set out the legal obligations of the company. Also, it should make it clear as to whom the policy applies and outline what will be considered alcohol and drug misuse, including any exceptions such as required prescription medications. The policy should also provide information and advice about where employees can obtain help if they feel like they are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Also, any drug and alcohol problem that employees have should be dealt with in complete confidence, so that employees are not afraid of admitting that they have a problem.

If employers suspect an alcohol or drug program, they can bring up the employees poor performance and ask them whether it could be due to a health problem, without mentioning alcohol or drugs. This meeting should always be held in private and should be kept confidential. If the employee begins on a program to get help for their addiction, regular meetings can be arranged to discuss their progress.

When all managers and staff are aware of how the company deals with alcohol and drug related issues, this gives staff members the confidence and assurance to come forward and seek help for themselves – without being afraid of being disciplined and punished.

Drugs and Alcohol Training

Drugs and Alcohol training and awareness programmes for individuals, groups and organisations wishing to understand and respond effectively to drugs and alcohol related problems. Levels of drug use in this country are now so high, and across the whole spectrum of the population, that drugs can affect any workplace, no matter how large or small. It is therefore essential in this day and age to take precautions in the form of education and training.

It is important that both employers and employees receive the appropriate training for their industry. This training will involve information about drugs and alcohol in the workplace and how to develop a company policy regarding this.