Managing Drug and Alcohol Misuse in the Workplace

Drug and alcohol misuse can cause a serious risk in the workplace, not only to the individual’s own physical and mental health, but also to those around them if they are employed in a safety-critical role.

A recent study from 2022 found an increased rate of alcohol and recreational drug use during the summer months – so now is an important time to ensure you are prepared to manage drug and alcohol misuse in your workplace.

Lost productivity due to alcohol use costs the UK economy more than £7 billion each year, with surveys showing that 25% say that drugs or alcohol have affected them at work, and 23% saying they had experienced decreased productivity as a result.

What are the warning signs for drug or alcohol misuse?

key warning signs of substance abuse as outlined in the textThere are a number of key warning signs to look out for that may suggest colleagues or peers are engaging in drug or alcohol misuse, the most common are:

  • unexplained or frequent absences
  • a change in behaviour
  • unexplained dips in productivity
  • more accidents or near-misses
  • performance or conduct issues

Many of these situations can occur for a number of reasons that do not relate to drug or alcohol misuse, such as if people are suffering from mental health problems, have recently had an accident or have recent trauma such as suffering a bereavement.

Similarly, drug and alcohol misuse can also occur as a result of these events showing the complex interrelationships that can establish with misuse. There are important risk factors identified as increasing the likelihood of harm these include:

  • Shift work
  • Poor working conditions (hazardous, hot, cramped, at height, underground)
  • Personal conflict and stress
  • Low job security or lack of control
  • Changes or upheaval at work
  • Drinking culture being seen as normal at work

What should an alcohol and drugs at work policy and risk assessment include?

Man with one hand on a keyboard, the other holding many pillsBusinesses have a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure so far as reasonably practicable the health, safety, and welfare at work of their employees.

Similarly, employees have duties under the act to ensure the safety of themselves and others who be affected by their acts or omission at work.

In addition to these general health and safety duties, there is also legislation in place under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which makes it a criminal offence for any person to permit knowingly the production, supply, possession, and use of controlled drugs on their premises except in specified circumstances such as where they have been prescribed by a doctor.

Company policies on drugs and alcohol must consider these legal requirements well establishing their policy, objectives and arrangements on the matter.

Company risk assessments must consider the risk factors, such as the shift patterns, workforce and procedures (e.g. driving), and set out suitable and sufficient methods to manage this risk. Most businesses take a zero-tolerance policy to alcohol and drug misuse in the workplace. Although, understanding the social reasoning for such use may help to ensure the provision of reasonably practicable welfare arrangements to assist employees who suffer.

How can you support employees with a drug or alcohol problem?

Having robust support structures in place can both help prevent alcohol and drug abuse and also treat any existing problems. This can help to provide a safe, healthy, and productive working environment for all employees.

Raising awareness in the workforce through training is important to help employees recognise the signs of colleagues who may be suffering, but also to understand where they can get assistance themselves. Actions could include straightforward options such as putting up posters or by employees completing certified awareness training courses in the subject, or possibly training a member of the workforce to be a mental health first aider or counsellor.

However, you will have to consider the welfare of those persons appointed, and where they themselves go for assistance. Internal alterations may be required such as a temporary change in work patterns, time off work or a change in team. Outside help may be required such as referring employees to an occupational health service or GP if it is clear that the matter cannot be solved internally.

How can WA Management help?

WA Management offer a number of services that can support you with this – including our Alcohol and Drug Awareness online training, bespoke risk assessments, and comprehensive Health and Safety Policy which includes a dedicated section on alcohol and drugs.

Alcohol and Drug Awareness & Legionella training courses are essential tools in reducing the risk of these health and safety hazards. Make sure you don’t miss out on our 10% off deal on these courses, available until the end of July. Simply enter the code ‘summer10’ at checkout to save!

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