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Drug and Alcohol at Work: Safety Risks & Importance of Having Policies

18 March, 2024

A worker falling from the ladder

Drugs and alcohol at work can lead to serious safety risks. These include impaired cognitive function, a higher likelihood of accidents, and health risks for both the user and those around them. Having policies in place is crucial for ensuring the safety of employees and legal compliance. By implementing and enforcing clear guidelines regarding drug and alcohol use in the workplace, employers can protect their workforce and prevent potential accidents or legal issues.

Alcohol and drug-related hazards are important issues that policies must address. Otherwise, they may not be able to fulfil their obligations to protect the safety of employees. One of the methods policies can help implement is alcohol and drug testing programs. They may use urine, saliva, blood, hair, or breath tests. This article will present the safety risks of alcohol and drugs at the workplace, highlighting detection methods and the importance of clear policies against substance abuse.

Safety Risks of Drugs and Alcohol at Work

The influence of drugs and alcohol at work can pose serious safety risks. One of the main concerns is impaired cognitive function and decision-making. When someone consumes these substances, their ability to think clearly and make sound judgments is significantly compromised. This can lead to poor decision-making in critical situations, putting themselves and others at risk.

An increased risk of accidents and injuries is another consequence of drug and alcohol use at work. Substance misuse can affect coordination, reaction time, and overall physical abilities. This decline in motor skills can result in workplace accidents. Safety-critical positions such as transportation and mining occupations, where safety measures are crucial, are particularly susceptible to these dangers.

Furthermore, drug and alcohol abuse also have long-term health consequences, leading to frequent absences. Regular substance misuse can harm physical and mental health, leading to a decline in overall well-being. Australian workplaces, recognising the importance of a healthy and productive business environment, have implemented safety initiatives to address these concerns.

Other Effects of Substance Abuse in the Workplace

  • Decreased productivity: the presence of alcohol and drugs can impair cognitive abilities, leading to reduced work performance.
  • Conflicts among fellow employees: substance abuse can disrupt workplace relationships.
  • Absent employees: employees who abuse drugs or alcohol are more likely to be absent from work or regularly arrive late.
  • Decreased job satisfaction: abuse of illicit substances has a negative impact on workplace health, leading to decreased job satisfaction.
  • Criminal behaviour: Australian workers under the influence of drugs or alcohol may engage in unsafe work practices.
  • Legal liabilities: impairment from alcohol or illicit drugs can lead to legal liabilities if accidents or injuries occur.

A medical professional conducting a swab test on male individual

How to Detect Drugs and Alcohol at Work?

Employers or safety representatives can utilise various testing procedures to detect drugs and alcohol at work. Firstly, urine drug and alcohol tests are considered the standard for workplace testing. This test uses urine samples to trace substances in the system. It has a detection period of about 24 hours. However, this can increase depending on the type used and if the individual is a chronic user.

Secondly, saliva tests are often used for onsite testing. It uses saliva samples to trace substance misuse. It has a shorter detection period than other screening methods. This is ideal for identifying recent consumption. Moreover, the saliva collection procedure is easy and non-invasive. Thirdly, breath alcohol testing is a testing method that helps identify liquor intake. It can trace the consumption of alcohol for about 24 hours. It typically uses breath alcohol equipment like breathalysers.

Fourthly, blood testing is considered the most accurate testing method. However, because of its invasive collection procedure, many only use it for confirmatory testing. Lastly, hair follicle testing involves using scalp hair strands to identify liquor and drug use for about 90 days.

Substances that Can be Detected

The first category of substances that can be detected are common drugs. These include cannabis, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, and methamphetamine. Detection of any of these substances in a drug test can have legal repercussions. Additionally, prescription drugs fall under scrutiny. Misuse of prescription medications such as opiates, opioids, amphetamines, and benzodiazepines can result in disciplinary actions or legal issues.

Furthermore, the tests can detect ethanol, the primary active component in alcoholic beverages. Ethanol consumption can lead to significant impairment, affecting cognitive and motor functions. Its detection can raise work-related risks regarding the fitness of an individual for some tasks.

Drug test kit and pen placed on top of a drug testing agreement document

Importance of Having Clear Policies for Drugs and Alcohol at Work

Having clear policies for drugs and alcohol at work is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, they help ensure the safety of employees by identifying workers with substance abuse disorders. This is crucial because illicit substance use can cause various negative impacts on individuals and the organisation as a whole. Hence, companies benefit from implementing a comprehensive workplace policy.

Secondly, it helps deter people from drug and alcohol abuse. By outlining expected behaviours and prohibited activities, employees can fulfil their duties responsibly. Furthermore, strict implementation can help improve the reputation of the company as a safe and productive workplace. This can help to attract top talent and clients.

Lastly, a comprehensive company policy can help the company fulfil its obligations and mitigate legal liabilities. It is the responsibility of businesses to comply with relevant laws and standards. One is the requirement to provide employees with a safe and healthy work environment. Thus, establishing safeguards through the drug and alcohol testing policy can protect the company from legal challenges.

Consequences for Breaches

When an employee breaches workplace drug and alcohol policies, there can be serious consequences. Firstly, they may face disciplinary action, including verbal warnings, written warnings, or even suspension or termination of employment. Additionally, the breach can have long-term implications for their professional reputation and future job prospects.

In some cases, employers may need to report the breach to relevant authorities, such as law enforcement or regulatory agencies. Legal consequences can involve fines, penalties, or even criminal charges, depending on the severity of the breach and local laws. Therefore, employees should understand that breaching these policies can have far-reaching personal, professional, and legal consequences.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the presence of drugs and alcohol at work poses significant safety risks. Impaired cognitive function and decision-making increase the likelihood of accidents and injuries, particularly in safety-critical roles. Moreover, substance misuse leads to long-term health issues and frequent absences, impacting overall productivity. To address these concerns, employers can utilise various testing methods such as urine, saliva, breath, blood, and hair follicle tests. Detecting substance misuse early allows for timely intervention.

Clear policies regarding drugs and alcohol in the workplace are vital for maintaining safety, productivity, and legal compliance. By outlining expectations and consequences, companies can foster a secure environment while deterring substance abuse. Breaches of these policies can lead to disciplinary actions, damage to reputation, and legal ramifications. Thus, employees must understand the importance of adhering to these guidelines to uphold their well-being and that of their colleagues.

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