Health & Safety, HR

Alcohol and Drug Use in the Workplace

The use of drugs or alcohol by employees in the workplace can be a serious issue for your business. Whilst for most people the social use of alcohol and drugs does not have a negative impact on their personal or work life, research has shown that many employers have experienced problems in the workplace due to staff being under the influence of drugs (both legal and illegal) or alcohol.

Any person who uses substances at work, or comes to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol will have their performance impaired and can put themselves and their colleagues’ safety at risk. This is not just a problem for construction workers, drivers and machine operators; it can affect an employee doing any job in any industry. Dependency on drink and/or drugs can also lead to mental health problems and increased absence from work. Research by DrugScope and Alcohol Concern revealed that 27% of employers say drug misuse is a problem at work and 60% have experienced problems due to staff drinking alcohol.

What is your legal responsibility?

You have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of your employees. You also have a duty under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, to assess the risks to the health and safety of your employees. If you knowingly allow an employee under the influence of alcohol or drug misuse to continue working and his or her behaviour places the employee or others at risk, you could be prosecuted. Your employees are also required to take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by what they do at work.

The Transport and Works Act 1992 makes it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through drugs and/or drink while working on railways, tramways and other guided transport systems. The operators of the transport system would also be guilty of an offence unless they had shown all due diligence in trying to prevent such an offence being committed.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 states that any person who, when driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs shall be guilty of an offence.

What should you do?

It is important that you put in place a “Drug and Alcohol” policy in consultation with staff. The policy should form part of your overall Health & Safety policy and should:

  • Aim to protect and support those staff that are affected by alcohol and substance misuse and guarantee confidentiality.
  • Make it clear whether the use of drugs will be considered a criminal matter and at what times, if any, drinking alcohol on work premises is allowed.
  • Treat alcohol and drug misuse as a health, rather than disciplinary matter in the first instance.
  • Outline the situation regarding absence for treatment and rehabilitation.
  • Be clear and concise and leave no room for misunderstanding.

Some employers, particularly those in safety-sensitive industries, are choosing to adopt alcohol and drug screening as part of both the recruitment process and as a routine part of the job. If you decide to do go down the screening  you should make it clear in your Drug and  Alcohol policy and check where you stand legally before going ahead with it.

Workplace Culture

Looking at the wider culture of your organisation may pinpoint areas that lead to drug and alcohol misuse at work. Socialising after work is often encouraged by employers, but where this revolves exclusively around alcohol it can lead to a culture or heavy drinking. Even alcohol drunk or drugs taken the previous evening can affect performance the following day if consumed in excess.

Many people use alcohol or drugs to help deal with work related stress and employers should look at the general work environment to see if they can eliminate particular areas of stress if they are experiencing recurring issues of drink and drug misuse at work.

Although it is an individual’s decision to control what they consume, their health and safety at work and that of their colleagues is ultimately the responsibility of their employer. Having a clear understanding of the affects of alcohol and drugs in the workplace and how to deal with related misuse issues is as important as any other part of your Health & Safety policy.


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Saul HunnaballSaul Hunnaball
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