I’m not as think as you stoned I am… Managing drug & alcohol in the workplace

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So, you don’t believe you have a drug or alcohol problem in your workplace? Ummm - think again. It is a hidden hazard in the workplace that you absolutely need to have a clear handle on.

According to Drug Foundation figures, 44% of New Zealanders will try illicit drugs at some point in their lives and 93% will happily consume alcohol. More than 10% of the adult population are regular cannabis users which is only slightly less than the numbers of tobacco smokers.

This only tells half the story of course. 4-5,000 Kiwis receive support each year to reduce their alcohol or drug use, and this is a conservative estimate. Many more will have less visible problems that they aren’t dealing with and won’t acknowledge. It’s like a hidden workplace hazard we don’t want to address.

Regardless of the size of your business, statistically you are likely to have some individuals experiencing problems with alcohol and/or drug use that is impacting on their performance at work. Worse than that, they are putting themselves and your business at risk.

What are the potential business impacts?

  • Increased risk of workplace injury and accidents

  • Higher rates of absenteeism and ill-health

  • Lower productivity

  • Unreliability

  • Poorer quality of work

  • Impaired judgement, fatigue

  • Inappropriate behaviour

  • Increased risk of theft or damage in the workplace

  • Deterioration of workplace relationships/teamwork

  • Business reputational impact

So what should I do about it?

As an employer, you should be taking a proactive approach as part of your general duty to make sure that everyone at your workplace is safe. Developing a comprehensive written policy that allows for drug and alcohol testing (if appropriate) and outlines the responsibility of employees both inside and away from the workplace is a must have.

This is particularly important where your staff might be involved in operating machinery, driving as part of their job or working in industries where there are hazardous environments and safety is paramount. Increasingly, pre-employment drug testing is now a feature and a condition of starting work in many industries and organisations, not just those who have the highest level of safety risk.

Still need convincing? Here are five reasons to have a drug and alcohol policy:

1. Embedding a safety culture

Good health and safety practices cover a wide-range of areas. It’s not just the visible hazards you need to manage, but also your other less visible risks. A drug and alcohol policy is far more likely to be effective if you take the rest of your broader health and safety responsibilities as a business seriously and involve your staff in the day to day health and safety processes.

2. Sending the right signals

Your policy needs to apply equally to everyone from the CEO to the newest recruit. As employers, we should acknowledge and educate our staff about the impacts of alcohol and drugs. This doesn’t mean never having alcohol in the workplace for example, just making sure there are clear boundaries and expectations for things like social events.

3. Reducing the risk of workplace accidents and injuries

There is no doubt that drugs and alcohol can seriously impair judgement, ability and skill and therefore compromise workplace safety. Making sure your employees are not complacent about that is key.

4. Allow you to proactively (and fairly) manage the risks

A workplace policy allows you to take a preventative approach both through testing, and by offering support, education and rehabilitation to workers who may have a problem with drugs or alcohol.

5. Leave no one in any doubt about the consequences

If all else fails, you need to be able to deal with a problem and take appropriate action. This may be of a disciplinary nature should a problem with an individual be ongoing, or a drug test failed, although rehabilitation should be the primary remedy. Dealing with drug and alcohol fuelled incidents can end up being very costly and time consuming if not handled carefully and sensitively, and that starts with having a clear policy in place. If your business needs one, check out our Drug & Alcohol Policy and our Health & Safety Toolkit or contact us directly if you would like more comprehensive advice and support.

Kim Rippin