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Alcohol & drugs

Use of alcohol and other drugs before or while at work can have a significant negative impact on individuals and the people around them.


Research has estimated that 2.5 million days are lost annually due to alcohol and other drug use, at a cost of more than $680 million.

Almost one in 10 workers say they have experienced the negative effects of a co-worker's misuse of alcohol, while alcohol and other drugs are estimated to cost Australian workplaces $6 billion per year in lost productivity.

Assess the risks

The use of alcohol or other drugs affect a person's co-ordination, motor control, alertness and ability to exercise judgement. At some workplaces this can pose a high risk, particularly where workers operate machinery, drive or rely on concentration in the course of their work. Drugs and alcohol also adversely affect productivity and relationships.

Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) have a responsibility to ensure that any worker affected by alcohol or drugs is not in a position of personal risk – and does not present a hazard or risk to the health and safety of others.

You can assess whether risks exist or may arise by considering:

  • patterns of alcohol and/or other drug consumption – people who use large amounts on single occasions may create different risks compared to people who are regular heavy users
  • prevailing workplace culture, for example do you encourage workers to drink after work?
  • physical isolation – workers in isolated areas or who are separated from family and friends sometimes consume alcohol and/or other drugs due to boredom, loneliness or lack of social activities
  • levels of supervision – inadequate supervision and communication about expected roles and behaviour on the job may lead to unacceptable actions
  • extended working hours or shift work – illicit drugs, such as amphetamines, or prescription medication may be taken to keep awake
  • interpersonal factors, such as stress or bullying at work, which may increase risks
  • working conditions – hot or dangerous environments may contribute to levels of consumption
  • job satisfaction.

Drug and alcohol strategy

If your assessment suggests some risks exist, then you will need to think about how to control them. Develop a strategy with the aim of eliminating or reducing alcohol and other drug related harm, as far as is practicable. Try this three-tiered approach:

  • Provide information and education to help everyone understand how to deal with drug or alcohol affected workers or visitors.
  • Introduce a drug and alcohol policy and associated procedures for dealing with affected workers to make it really clear that your workplace will not tolerate the use of drugs and alcohol – use this sample policy as a starting point.
  • Create opportunities for return to usual work duties by affected workers.

Testing fitness for work

Except for alcohol testing, a positive drug test is not directly related to impairment nor does it provide a reliable indicator of impairment. It only detects whether somebody has been exposed to drugs.

Impairment tests, also known as ‘fitness for work’ or ‘fitness for duty’ testing systems, measure actual impairment rather than the existence of drugs or drug by-products in the system, and can be used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, alcohol and other drug testing at the workplace.

As with drug testing, such testing has limits and should be part of a comprehensive workplace strategy that includes education, policy and procedures.

Work functions

Work functions are an important way to thank workers and celebrate special occasions. To act responsibly you could consider:

  • providing non-alcoholic drinks or limiting refreshments to lower alcohol drinks such as light beer or wine
  • providing food and nibbles
  • having a plan in place for those who cannot drive home safely (eg organise lifts, get them to stay overnight, ask them to pack a swag).

Emergency and counselling services

Drug and alcohol emergency information

Emergency

Call for police assistance on 131 444, or 000 in an emergency, if a person’s behaviour is a threat to themselves or someone else. This can be difficult to do if it’s someone close to you, but may be necessary.

If someone is threatening suicide, their safety is paramount and they need a mental health assessment as soon as possible. Contact the mental health triage service on 13 1465 (24/7 service).

In a crisis

If a person is agitated, anxious or paranoid, but not physically aggressive, talk to them calmly and try to reassure them. If they remain distressed, seek medical assistance from a GP or at your closest emergency department.
If you are unsure what to do, phone healthdirect on 1800 022 222.

Keeping yourself and others safe is most important. Remaining calm and in control can help ease the situation. If it’s safe to do so, walk away from the situation and confirm that you will discuss what has happened once the person has calmed down.

Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS)

A confidential telephone counselling, information and referral service staffed by trained professionals. Phone 1300 13 13 40 from 8.30am to 10pm every day (local call fee for South Australians).

Counselling Online

Free, confidential drug and alcohol counselling available online 24/7.

Further information

Resources and services are available to help employers and workers talk about, manage and prevent alcohol and drug use.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s Framework for alcohol and drug management in the workplace

Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia (DASSA) has a range of publications and resources available for download about:

These programs are available for general practitioners, pharmacists and other health professionals:

Beyondblue: Drugs, alcohol and mental health fact sheet

DrugInfo: an Australian Drug Foundation (ADF) service offering information about alcohol and other drugs, and the prevention of related harms. The ADF's Workplace Services team has a number of preventative tools available. 

Australian Drug Information Network: a search directory for information on alcohol, other drugs and mental health, with links to treatment services, research, statistics, guidelines, journals, policy, campaigns, events, curriculum and professional development opportunities.

Construction & Other Industries Drug & Alcohol Program: addresses unsafe work practices related by drugs and alcohol in construction industry workplaces.

Drugs or Alcohol Not at Work: a national preventative education campaign which is an initiative of the CFMEU in partnership with Incolink.

Further resources can be accessed from our Library catalogue.