We all know about the anti-drink driving campaign… should there be an anti-drink working campaign too?
How common are alcohol-related accidents in the workplace
Tis the season to be merry, again, but knowing when to stop for many remains a problem, and it's this time of year which sees the greatest levels of alcohol-related accidents. Combine this with the seasonal work organised events which include the consumption of alcohol and the problem a how best to manage the whole issue comes very much to the fore for many corporate and business management.
Things are getting better compared to 20 years ago, but despite this last year, almost 85,000 people were convicted of drink driving offences in England and Wales. Over 3600 were seriously injured with 940 deaths attributed to alcohol.(1)
Finding figures for workplace accidents attributed to alcohol is more difficult. The HSE only publishes advise for employers duties under the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Transport and Works Act 1992 relating to drivers.(2)
The most recent large scale study by PruHealth 2006 is commonly quoted.
… nearly one-in-four employees (22%) admit to making mistakes at work as a result of being hungover. 83% of employees who have been hungover at work admit it makes a difference to the way they work. A third say they 'drift off and don’t work at their usual pace', 28% suffer from headaches and can't concentrate and 62% reveal they generally just 'muddle through the day (3)
Which industries are most at risk for problem drinking
So alcohol remains a real productivity and safety concern for UK businesses, and clearly, not just in the party season, so what can be done to reduce the impact? In 2016 Dame Carol Black published a government-commissioned independent review which highlighted some of the factors associated with problematic alcohol misuse. This highlighted risk related employment features such as long shifts, tight deadlines, monotonous work, and job insecurity. Interestingly, it also highlighted the heavy drinking culture associated with many graduate schemes, socials, and networking seen as career progressive in many industries employing a high level of young graduates.(4)
So alcohol in the workplace is clearly not just a blue-collar issue in heavy industry. While it (HSE) acknowledges the misuse of alcohol can lead to reduced productivity, time off work, and accidents at work. It encourages employers to adopt a holistic alcohol policy, in consultation with their staff to include how the organisation expects employees to limit their drinking; how to recognise problem drinking and offer support, and when an employee's drinking will become a matter for discipline, rather than a health problem. (2)
What is the employer's responsibility when it comes to alcohol?
Where there is clear evidence of alcohol affecting an employee’s behaviour or performance in the workplace (e.g. recklessly coming to work having been drinking), dismissal is likely and will be held to be fair at an employment tribunal, especially where the work in question is particularly sensitive, such as where there may be a risk to others.
Business has a role clearly in the proactive management of the alcohol issue, and this is the season to get the ball rolling without necessarily arousing any suspicion that its a major issue within your business.
We have worked with some well know large companies and local authorities in recent years, providing simple, disposable breath testers for corporate events or promotions. Giving your staff a breathalyzer kit is a great ice breaker and catalyst for discussing the employers view on alcohol in the workplace.
"They have been given to staff in some quite imaginative ways," said Mike Garside, Medical Director at UK Drug Testing, "even in party bags at the end of the staff party event." It's a low-cost option which works really well for business and can be justified anywhere you are serving alcohol to staff or part of your corporate hospitality and marketing. Many companies have gone on to make these kits regularly available to staff for self-testing in "the morning after" scenarios.(5)
UK Drug Testing has been working with companies supplying drug and alcohol testing kits for the last 18 years. If you need any help or advice visit please contact us
(3) PruHealth (November 2006), '200,000 HUNGOVER WORKERS ON ANY GIVEN DAY'
(4) Dame Black, Carol (December 2016), ‘Drug and alcohol addiction, and obesity: effects on employment outcomes’, p. 47