Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers have a legal duty to ensure, as best they can, that the health, safety and welfare of their employees is maintained. Employers have also legal obligations under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Under this act it is an offence to possess, offer to supply or produce controlled drugs without authorisation. An employer is accountable if they knowingly allow a worker to continue work if they know them to be intoxicated. This can put the health of that employee and others at risk. The employee is required to take reasonable care of themselves as others can be affected by what they do. There is extra legislation in place for workers in the transport industry, i.e under the Transport and Works Act 1992. In this industry it is a criminal offence for workers to be unfit through drink and or drugs. This includes work on railways, tramways and guided transport systems. Most businesses regard alcohol as a fairly minor problem, however there are always concerns. Concerns for company owners include loss of productivity, safety concerns, effect on team morale, bad behavior and bad communications.
Some organizations now treat alcohol dependence as an illness and target rehabilitation rather than labeling it as a problem. This can encourage employees to seek treatment as they feel supported in this environment. This positive approach can help employees recognize the dangers of alcohol misuse and can be a long term aid to their recovery. At work, alcohol or drug misuse can produce sub-standard work and damage the reputation of the organization. So, it is imperative that all concerned make a positive approach to tackle any onset of suspect alcohol abuse.
Guide for developing an alcohol misuse policy in the workplace
The HSE has four steps for dealing with both alcohol and drug problems at work.
- Is there a problem?
The first step would be to find out how knowledgable employees are about the effect of alcohol on health and safety and the rules on alcohol use as they understand them. It needs to be observed if certain employees or an employee are drinking during working hours, during and after shifts or doing heavy drinking outside of work. As well as observing this, further information needs to be explored in relation to sickness absence, productivity and any disciplinary problems. Heavy drinking may begin when one is under excessive work pressure and where drinking and entertaining is a normal part of doing business.
- Decide what to do
If an employee is highlighted as having a suspect alcohol problem, they have the same right to support as if they had a medical condition. There should not be immediate dismissal or disciplinary action. The courts would not look favourably on this. The employer must make a reasonable effort to help the employee get the support they need. In a bigger organization, the staff nurse and occupational health practitioner would be consulted. Given time and help most people are able to gain control over their drinking and regain previous work productivity.
- Taking Action
Support of other managers and employees is necessary when introducing chances to the work drink policy or instigating a new one. Local alcohol advisory services may be able to help train managers and employees recognize if a fellow colleague has a drink problem. Many larger organizations have a written policy on alcohol tolerance policies as it pertains to their business. Some companies, especially those in the safety sensitive areas, use alcohol testing and screening of employees to detect if there are any problems. Testing may be occasional or random, and, especially may be used for new applicants. Screening is never a complete answer and must be supplemented by a professional assessment of an employee.
- Checking what you have done
The policy initiated should be checked regularily as it applies to the work-force, work culture and its ease of use in monitoring and supporting staff in relation to alcohol misuse at work. It should help sustain a positive culture, drive away any prejudices and any changes should be easily communicated.