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Tackling Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace
By Sonya Buck, Australia

It’s probably something you hope you will never have to address, but unfortunately drug and alcohol issues may affect your workplace.

Firstly, the impacts on your business, the employee and your other employees can’t be underestimated.
For one thing, safety is hugely important particularly in an industry like ours which may involve driving and operating machinery. Other issues caused include increased absenteeism, loss of productivity, plus poor decision making and lower morale of co-workers.

Putting all the other issues aside, with all the associated costs of employing staff, small businesses cannot afford to carry unproductive employees.

Some workplaces will require zero tolerance of drugs or alcohol, particularly when safety is a primary concern and this should be reflected in workplace policies and employee agreements. When safety requires such ongoing focus many workplaces require regular drug or alcohol testing. Management should demonstrate a commitment to a safe workplace and inform workers and others of acceptable behaviour.

It’s important to consider that Federal and State legislation reminds us that as an employer it is your duty to provide a safe workplace. This involves a process of identifying risk, risk management and risk control in every workplace.

Your workplace policy should include Identification of a worker impaired by alcohol and/or other drugs, how to deal with a worker impaired by alcohol or other drugs and be part of your workplace induction. Training may be provided on this policy.

Sometimes employees may experience personal issues such as mental health problems, marital and family problems, financial problems which lead to drug or alcohol issues. In larger workplaces you may want to offer direct support by providing your own employee assistance program or refer the employee to where they can obtain assistance.

Workplace drug and alcohol issues are not new. In the 1980s I remember an issue with a colleague on a work trip where we lost someone (who unbeknown to us had a drug problem) for an entire day in a big city. In those days, there were no policies or support programs and it meant the employee was just immediately dismissed.

If you would like to create or update your workplace policy or need assistance, further information can be found and in each State or Territory.