Why You Should Consider Implementing An Alcohol And Substance Abuse Policy

Peninsula Team

November 04 2009

Alcohol and substance abuse is a very sensitive area for employers to tackle and must be handled properly. If you are a Peninsula client and have issues with this subject, or want advice on setting up your own policy, call through to the Advice Service on 0844 892 2785 where one of our trained advisors can help tailor make a policy for your business.

Approximately 25% of accidents at work are claimed to be alcohol-related. Alcohol is also estimated to be responsible for 3-5% of all absences from work (about 6 -14 million lost working days in the UK each year). Alcohol and substance abuse, including drugs, is known to cause poor performance, damage customer relations and can cause resentment among employees who have to carry’ their colleagues.

So, clearly, there is a good business case for tackling the problem. Moreover, employers who knowingly allow a worker under the influence of drink or substances to continue to work and put themselves or their colleagues at risk could find themselves being prosecuted by the Enforcing Authorities.

At first sight this may appear to be a difficult social problem; one which employers might struggle to control. But this is not the case. Being aware of the issues and having a plan to deal with them should they arise is an important first step.

There is no right’ way to develop a policy as business environments vary and some employers may only be interested in certain components. The type of policy required will depend upon the nature of the organisation, the culture, size and structure of the workplace and the rationale behind the policy.

For most organisations, a simple, short policy statement is all that is needed. As a minimum, this should set out:

  • a commitment to ensuring the health, safety and welfare of employees by preventing alcohol and substance abuse problems at work;
  • a summary of the problems alcohol and drug consumption may cause; and
  • the potential disciplinary consequences of breaching the policy.

For larger organisations or those with an existing problem, a more detailed approach and policy will be appropriate. In addition to the above, this may involve:

  • talking to employees to find out what they know about the effects of alcohol and substances on health and safety and their understanding of any restrictions on their use in the organisation. Employees can help clarify goals, make sure that the policy fits into the daily reality of the workplace and spread the message among their colleagues;
  • seeking expert advice from a specialist agency;
  • examining sickness, productivity, accident and disciplinary records;
  • considering whether working conditions such as stress, excessive pressure, unsocial hours, monotony and work-related issues e.g. entertaining clients may contribute to alcohol/drug problems;
  • considering the extent to which the organisation objects to employees using substances or alcohol before coming on shift, during working hours, during lunch and other breaks, on special occasions or when entertaining clients. Will the same rules apply to all? Are some jobs more safety-sensitive than others?
  • considering whether screening and testing are appropriate. If testing is to be used, specific reference should be made to the procedures and circumstances in which it will be carried out;
  • consultation with unions or employee representatives;
  • considering what help and support the organisation is willing to offer to employees with alcohol and substance problems. For example, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) may involve suspension of disciplinary/capability proceedings in specified circumstances if the employee admits to the problem and commits to a rehabilitation programme, together with time off work for counselling/treatment;
  • commitment to maintaining confidentiality and consistency of approach;
  • educating employees on the impact of substances and alcohol both in the workplace and outside it;
  • communication of the policy to new and existing employees;
  • considering who will be responsible for enforcing the policy and whether any additional training should be provided. Supervisors and managers need to be clear about the rules and what to do if they suspect employees’ drinking or drug use is affecting their work. They also need to be aware of the implications of not tackling possible alcohol and substance misuse, especially where safety is an issue; and
  • reviewing and monitoring the policy on a regular basis.

Many employers have recognised that alcohol or substance misuse can be tackled, that they can help individual employees overcome their addiction and tackle any underlying factors that may have contributed to the problem. Organisations who refer employees with alcohol and substance problems for specialist treatment, or who give rehabilitation and support, report that more than 60% have been able to successfully manage their problem and remain at work. Whilst there are undoubtedly costs associated with such an approach, these may be less than the costs of recruiting and training a replacement.

Remember, the Peninsula Advice Service is on hand to help you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So call through now on 0844 892 2785 and one of our specialists will be happy to help.

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