Drugs and Alcohol
Drugs and alcohol can have a serious impact on the workplace.
In Australia, as with most other countries, drugs and alcohol are used with frequency throughout the community. This has an obvious impact on the workforce.
Drugs and alcohol can lead to a variety of direct and indirect costs to your business, making management of these a vital aspect of your overall safety program.
Just how big is Australia's drug problem?
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, recent illicit drug use in the community has been relatively stable over the last decade:
- Around one in seven people had used an illicit substance in the last year,
- Almost one in ten had used in the last month, and
- More than half of these had used a substance in the last week.
As many drugs can impair workers' capacity to perform safely hours or even days after consumed, this could mean individuals are attending your workplace negatively impacted by illicit substances, risking safety and productivity.
But what about alcohol?
Alcohol is a significant part of Australian culture. This brings the danger of it finding its way into the workplace, with impacts on physical health, mental health, and safety of workers.
A report on the construction industry found that
- Half of all adult workers, and more than six in ten apprentices drink at risky levels,
- More than one in ten reported it would be difficult to cut down or stop drinking, and
- Half of these reported that they had a drinking problem.
How does this impact business?
Drugs and alcohol have a number of direct and indirect costs to business.
- Drugs and alcohol may be involved in as much as 20% of workplace accidents, and 10% of workplace fatalities.
- Workplace drug use reduces productivity, and increases absenteeism and employee turnover.
- Individuals with higher levels of substance use tend to experience higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress.
- Drugs and alcohol cost business $3 billion, as well as 11.5 million sick days annually.
This means that every workplace faces the risk of unsafe use of drugs or alcohol costing the business money. Safety incidents can cause injuries for the affected worker, their colleagues, or even customers and the general public. Beyond that, workers with health concerns might be less productive, and can influence those around them, distracting everyone from normal routines.
So how can businesses address the problem?
Medvet suggests the four stages of a management program - drug and alcohol or 'AOD' policy; training and education for the team and supervisors; drug and alcohol testing; and providing support to affected personnel.
A drug and alcohol policy (also labelled as AOD or Alcohol and Other Drug policy) forms the foundation of addressing the use of substances in the workplace. This document should be available to all employees, and sets out your expectations around drugs and alcohol at the workplace. The procedure supporting the policy provides greater details around the roles and responsibilities of the employer, workplace, managers/supervisors, those who implement the policy, and employees. Many organisations combine these documents into one handy manual.
Medvet can help you develop or review your policy, through the experience and expertise of our in-house Senior Toxicologist, Dr John Edwards, PhD.
Educating employees is a vital aspect of addressing drugs and alcohol at work. Drug and alcohol awareness education provides employees with information about the harms of substance use, as well as how workplace AOD policies contribute to health and wellbeing for workers and their colleagues. Medvet's education sessions also provide a valuable forum for discussing your expectations as you implement a new drug and alcohol program.
Importantly, if an organisation does not educate on policy and expectations, the policy may lack enforceability.
As workplace leaders, your supervisors likely need further training. Medvet's Reasonable Cause Training can help supervisors identify, document and respond to their suspicion of unsafe behaviours in the workplace.
Medvet can come to your site, and educate your workforce with either of these sessions.
With a policy in place and a team educated about its contents, testing can occur. Recent drug or alcohol use can predict a worker attending work potentially under the influence of a substance, and workplace drug testing via specimens such as urine or oral fluid can be effective in identifying recent drug use that may pose a risk to a safe workplace. Other types of testing, such as via hair, can provide a longer-term view of a person's drug use.
Medvet has extensive experience working with clients across all industries to conduct on-site testing, Australia-wide.
Enforcing a drug and alcohol policy does not have to be about punishing infractions. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is an important component of workplace responses to drug and alcohol use. Employees are referred to the service, voluntarily after a first confirmed positive test result, providing them with the care needed to return to productivity and safe behaviour.
Medvet can help you run an effective drug and alcohol program, and manage the impact of inappropriate substance use on your organisation.