Why drinks, drugs and work don’t mix

Smiling workman in hardhat

Did you know that more than one in 20 Australian workers admit to having worked under the influence of alcohol and almost one in 50 report attending work under the influence of psychoactive drugs?

According to a 2011 survey entitled Intoxicated Workers: Findings from a National Australian Survey, these alarming rates are even higher for some industries, such as the hospitality industry, construction, and financial services.

These findings impact all Australian workers and raise concerns around legal and privacy issues, efficiency and effectiveness of processes and procedures and raise questions such as how, when and how often can you test?

Australian Drug Foundation Head of Workplace Services, Phillip Collins will join a panel discussion 'Drinks, Drugs and Work don’t mix’ at Safety in Action Perth. We caught up with him to ask how we can enforce a healthy attitude to alcohol in the workplace; his thoughts on regular testing; and whether we can initiate a cultural shift in the Australia’s attitude to alcohol.

In Australia, Alcohol is a daily part of many people’s lives. How can we enforce a healthy attitude to alcohol to reduce the negative impact this can have on our workplace health, safety and productivity?

The impact of alcohol on Australian workplaces and our community needs a far greater level of awareness. The majority of Australians consume alcohol responsibly, however we need to work particularly on reducing risk in situations including in the workplace, corporate events and special occasions where binge drinking and drinking at risky levels is far too common.

Employers and employees need to understand that when we consume alcohol at home it can affect how we work the next day, which can have a detrimental effect on productivity, absenteeism and accidents.

What are your thoughts on regular workplace drug and alcohol testing?

Testing may have a role to play in some workplaces, provided it is not done in isolation of the effective development of an alcohol & drug policy and education and communication about the impact of at work/at home alcohol consumption. Education and communication should be repeated on a regular basis throughout the year to keep it topical and front of mind.

Do you think there needs to be a cultural shift in our attitudes to alcohol? What can be done to incite change?

Yes. The Australian drinking culture has to modified to reduce the significant negative impacts alcohol is having on society. It’s estimated about a quarter of police time is caught up in alcohol-related incidents. We have seen a significant increase in ambulance call outs and emergency department admissions as a result of alcohol misuse. Alcohol is simply costing our community too much.

We need to look at reducing of night time trading hours, taxing products according to their alcohol content level, reducing the density of ‘big box liquor outlets’, particularly in lower socio-economic areas, being more cautious about protecting children from alcohol marketing and more widely educating the community on the effects of binge drinking.

In workplaces, we need to recognise that what we do after-hours affects the next day. Your drinking could not only be putting you at risk, it also impacts your colleagues.

Education, policy and continual reinforcement of the message will assist in modifying behaviours.

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