Alcohol in the Workplace
Its effect, risk, and impact on an organisation’s operations.
When compared to other countries, Australia’s annual alcohol consumption is relatively high. Alcohol is often consumed at social gatherings, events, celebrations and/or recreationally. Whilst it is okay to drink alcohol, it is important the alcohol is not to be consumed at work and must be effectively managed at work social gatherings.
As alcohol impacts a person’s ability to work safely, it is important that workers are fit and well to complete their job safely and to the required standards. It is important to recognise that attending work under the influence of alcohol, not only places the individual at risk but also those around them. Furthermore, it is important that business owners put in place effective policies surrounding the use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace and enforce these standards.
The availability of alcohol and the workplace culture (i.e., attitudes, behaviours, and expectations) around drinking in work-related environments can influence individual alcohol use and drinking patterns. When managed poorly, there is a significant impact of alcohol-related harm on the safety and health and overall workplace productivity. This can also be influenced by the people employed in the workplace, the nature of the work, the work environment and workplace culture (Alcohol Think Again, 2020). This highlights the importance of creating a safe alcohol consumption culture in the workplace.
Alcohol in Australia
According to the Australian Alcohol Guidelines, people should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standards drink in any one day (Australian Government, 2020). In 2020-2021, it is estimated 1 in 4 Australians aged 18 years and over exceeded the Australian Alcohol Guidelines (ABS, 2022). During lockdowns across Australia between March and May 2020, one in five Australian households reported buying more alcohol than usual. In households where more alcohol was purchased:
- 70% were drinking more alcohol than normal
- 28% were drinking alcohol on their own more often
- 34% said they were drinking alcohol daily (FARE)
Risk & Impact
With every drink, the risk of inappropriate behaviour and accidents and/or injury increase for the person drinking and others around them. Alcohol can affect problem solving skills, judgment, concentration, reaction times and coordination (Alcohol Think Again, 2020). Alcohol use contributes to 11% of workplace accidents and injuries, and alcohol-related absenteeism costs companies around $2 billion each year (PiddK, 2018).
Environments linked to ‘risky’ drinking (i.e., exceeding the Australian Alcohol Guidelines) include high stress conditions, social isolation, shift work, insecure employment, and experiences of discrimination, bullying, harassment, and conflict (Vic Health, 2012).
As a person conducting a business or undertaking, you must, so far as is reasonably practicable:
- ensure the health and safety of workers and others at your workplace
- consult with workers who carry out work for the business or undertaking and who are (or are likely to be) directly affected by a health and safety matter, and
- consult cooperate and coordinate activities with all other relevant duty holders (Safe Work Australia, 2022)
Managing alcohol in the workplace and creating a safe working environment free of alcohol falls under your duty of care as an employer. To fulfil these requirements there are a number of responses a business can implement, this may include but is not limited to:
- Implementing a ‘Fitness for Work’ alcohol policy
- Promoting workplace health,
- Providing education and training programs,
- Providing access to support, treatments and counselling services through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and/or
- Implementing workplace alcohol testing.
A good workplace response should be consistent with your workplace’s occupational health and safety framework and overall approach to risk management.
If you would like assistance implementing safety measures in your workplace, please contact our HR consulting team on (07) 3630 5695. For Crisis Support please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (Available 24/7). You can chat online at lifeline.org.au or text 0477 13 11 14.
For other free substance abuse resources, please see our list at the end of this blog.
Free Substance Abuse Resources
National Alcohol and Other Drugs Hotline: 1800 250 015 (available 24/7).
This service is free and offers confidential advice about alcohol and other drugs, offers support, information, counselling and referral to services.
Family Drug Support (FDS): 1300 368 186 (available 24/7).
This service provides support and information to families, friends and carers of people who have problematic alcohol and other drug use across Australia.
Stimulant Treatment Line: 9361 8088 or 1800 101 188 (outside Sydney) (available 24/7).
This service is a confidential service offering information, education and counselling around your own or someone else’s stimulant use.
Opioid Treatment Line (OTL): 1800 642 428 (Monday to Friday: 9:30am to 5:00pm).
This service provides information, advice and referral to opioid treatment options.
Counselling Online (24/7): counsellingonline.org.au
For online counselling and support for people with a dependence
Visit Alcoholics Anonymous Australia or call 1300 222 222.
Visit Narcotics Anonymous Australia or call 1300 652 820.
Quitline: 13 78 48 or visit quitnow.gov.au
Mensline Australia: 1300 78 99 78 (24hrs)
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Sobriety App – I am Sober is an addiction buddy useful for quitting any activity or substance.
Alcohol Think Again (2020). Facts about Alcohol and Workplace Issues. Alcohol Think Again. Retrieved 16 November 2022, from: https://alcoholthinkagain.com.au/alcohol-your-community/alcohol-the-workplace/workplace-resources/facts-about-alcohol-and-workplace-issues/
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2022). Alcohol consumption. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 16 November 2022, from https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/health-conditions-and-risks/alcohol-consumption/latest-release
Australian Government (2020). Australian Alcohol Guidelines revised. Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. Retrieved 16 November 2022, from https://www.health.gov.au/news/australian-alcohol-guidelines-revised#:~:text=To%20reduce%20the%20risk%20of,risk%20of%20harm%20from%20alcohol
FARE (2020). Many Australians using more alcohol and worried about household drinking Deakin ACT: Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.
Pidd K, et.al (2018) Workplace alcohol harm reduction intervention in Australia: Cluster non-randomised controlled trial. Drug and alcohol review;37(4):502-13.
Safe Work Australia (2022). Drugs and Alcohol. Safe Work Australia. Retrieved 16 November 2022, from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/safety-topic/hazards/drugs-and-alcohol
VicHealth (2012). Reducing alcohol-related harm in the workplace (An evidence review: summary report). Melbourne, Australia.
WHS Qld (2012) Framework for alcohol and drug management in the workplace. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. Retrieved 16 November 2022, from: https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0022/17185/alcohol-drug-management.pdf