Risks to safety
Drug and alcohol use (including legitimate over the counter or prescribed medications) can effect a person’s ability to work safely.
Even if someone drinks alcohol or uses drugs outside working hours, it can impair their judgement, co-ordination, concentration and alertness while on the job.
The results could be:
- workplace incidents, injuries or damage to equipment
- increased absenteeism and reduced productivity
- poor teamwork or workplace relationships
- disciplinary or conduct problems.
You must make sure any drug or alcohol use doesn’t affect your safety or the safety of others. For example, don’t come to work if you’re hungover or still on a high.
You must not use any drugs or alcohol while you’re at work. Exceptions are:
- if you’re taking prescription or over-the-counter medication for legitimate medical reasons. Ask your doctor about their affect on your ability to work safely. If it’s likely they’ll affect your ability to do your work safely, tell your manager/employer; they may give you other duties while you’re taking the medication
- with the permission of your employer: for example, having a drink at your workplace Christmas party.
If you think one of your co-workers is impaired at work, talk to your manager or health and safety representative.
If you’re a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), you must manage the hazards associated with drugs and alcohol in the workplace.
You must identify if there is drug and alcohol use at your workplace or if workers are coming to work under the influence.
Controlling the risks
If there are workplace factors that may influence someone to turn to drugs or alcohol — such as shift work, unreasonable schedules, bullying or high stress levels — consult with everyone in your workplace on ways to address these. For example, review and improve workloads, rosters and excessive working hours, staffing levels and resource availability, address bullying, and address factors causing unreasonable stress.
If you have high risk tasks, you might find you need a tougher approach or even a zero tolerance approach. Consult with the workers involved. This should be reflected in your safe work procedures and your drug and alcohol policy.
Provide regular training and information about the effects of drug and alcohol use on personal and work health and safety.
Drug and alcohol policy
Your policy should state:
- that you will not allow drugs or alcohol in your workplace (except prescription or over-the-counter medication taken for legitimate medical reasons, or any specified workplace-based social event), and you take their threat to personal and work health and safety seriously
- the ways you will reduce or remove drugs and alcohol from your workplace
- the procedures and disciplinary actions you will take if you find someone drinking or using drugs at your workplace, or working under the influence.
Create a hierarchy of actions to follow if someone breaches your policy. This might be a formal warning, followed by encouraging them to get treatment, then suspension, and finally dismissal.
More important than writing a policy is enforcing it, fairly and consistently. WorkSafe, the unions or the courts will consider if or how your policy, procedures and disciplinary actions have been followed (for example, if they have been applied to some workers but not others).
Consult with workers and their representatives to develop your policy.
Make sure everyone knows and understands your drug and alcohol policy. Email it to staff, display it on notice boards, and discuss it at staff meetings. Include it in training and inductions, too.
See our template in Resources below.
You should only consider testing if it is:
- included in your policy
- part of a broader program of safe work procedures, support, and training and information about the effects of drugs and alcohol on personal and work health and safety
- related to the requirements of the job/tasks (for example, it may be necessary for workers doing high risk tasks)
- agreed to by your workers
- done confidentially, respecting people’s privacy and considering all legal issues.
You must also develop procedures for the action you’ll take/the consequences for a positive test result.
A worker has the legal right to refuse testing, unless specific legislation, their work contract or employment agreement states otherwise. Don’t presume that if a worker refuses to be tested that they are affected by drugs or alcohol.
Before you introduce testing, consider:
- the extent of the problem throughout the workplace
- the practicalities of testing: who will do it, how much it will cost, when and how it will be done, and what type of procedure will be used.
If you do use testing, specify:
- the purpose of the testing
- the type of tests used and testing procedures, including cut-off points for a positive result
- when and why tests are carried out
- who will conduct the testing
- how and where test samples and results are to be stored, handled or destroyed
- procedures for the action you’ll take/the consequences for a positive test result
- consequences of refusing to take a test
- legal rights of those tested
- the grievance and complaints process
- how the results of the tests will be reviewed and conveyed to management.
What drug testing does not solve
Testing does not always measure how impaired someone may be or their ability to work safely. Alcohol is one of the few substances where the concentration measured (by either breath or blood analysis) can be related to levels of impairment. Some drugs break down slowly and remain in the body long after the effects have disappeared; for example, cannabis can be detected in urine for up to a month after a single use.
Testing will not solve work health or safety problems, nor will it tell you why someone is drinking or using drugs. Consider these factors before you start any testing program. For example, reviewing workplace factors such as shift work or supporting someone with personal or financial pressures may be easier and more beneficial.
Alcohol and workplace parties
If you serve alcohol at a workplace social event, you need to consider how to make sure your celebrations are safe ones. This includes making sure workers are safe once they leave your workplace, too.
- Make sure your drug and alcohol policy addresses alcohol at workplace social events.
- Make sure everyone knows and understands your drug and alcohol policy. Before your event, circulate it by email or internal mail to everyone, display it on notice boards, and discuss it at staff meetings.
- Make sure everyone knows they are expected to act responsibly.
- Provide plenty of non-alcoholic drinks.
- Provide plenty of food, and not just salty, greasy options that can make people thirsty. Foods rich in protein and carbohydrates stay in the stomach longer and slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
- Designate ‘party managers’ to implement your drug and alcohol policy if necessary.
- Anticipate the need for alternative transport (such as taxis or public transport) and encouraging people to use this if necessary.
- Stop serving alcohol before the event officially ends.
Supporting a worker with a problem
If a worker tells you they have a drug or alcohol problem, treat the matter seriously and confidentially.
Support them in practical ways: look at their job demands and responsibilities, the resources and time they have to do their job, and any other work factors that may influence them to turn to drugs or alcohol. Work with them to find ways to address these.
Consider allowing them to have time off for treatment, transferring them to another task that is less safety critical, and re-assuring them that they will not lose their job.
Encourage them to see their doctor or a support service. See Resources below.
WorkSafe Tasmania resources
If you think you (or one of your workers) has a drug or alcohol problem, you may be able to get support through your employer’s assistance program. If your employer doesn’t have a program like this, talk to your doctor or a service such as: