Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace

In the workplace there can be problems with alcohol and drugs. The person under the influence of these substance can be a hazard to not only themselves personally but to others in the workplace, in addition to the regular health problems associated with substance abuse. Legal drugs as well as illegal ones can also be abused. Prescription drugs and alcohol are often abused or misused. Some of these drugs can impact the work performance of an individual where there’s alertness and concentration required.

The performance of the individual taking drugs or using alcohol can suffer if they come to work under the influence of these substances. Social drinking for example, wouldn’t be a problem but if it’s substance abuse then other workers are in danger as well as the person abusing the substance.

The Extent of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in the Workplace

The workplace is an extension of our society and often reflects what is going on in society. Substance abuse is a common problem so this can be a problem in the workplace too. DrugScope and Alcohol Concern conducted a survey and found that 27 percent of employers fund drug problems in the workplace and 60 percent found some sort of alcohol problem in the workplace. Illegal drug use however, often not looked at correctly. A survey by the British Crime Survey found that about 5.3% of the workforce used illegal drugs on a regular basis. The study found that many were on benefits or unemployed. Many use these drugs on weekends and only use them socially. In reality the actual use of illegal drugs while at work is a small percentage

At work prescription drug use is the more common occurrence. It’s estimated that over 1.5 million are addicted to over-the-counter and prescription medications in the UK alone. Many other people use these drugs on a social basis so the numbers may be higher. These drugs can impact alertness, concentration, and the performance of the worker.

Alcohol abuse or misuse is even more common. An NHS survey found that 25 percent of men had drank over 8 units of alcohol and 16 percent of the women surveyed had drank over 6 units of alcohol during the week on at least one day. It’s estimated that around 3-5 percent of all absences from work is because of alcohol issues.

Law and Substance Abuse in the Workplace

There are no safety or health laws for dealing with alcohol or drugs in a work setting. There are other laws that may apply, however. No one can permit the supply, use, or production of controlled substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act on the premise unless there’s specific premises such as being prescribed medications by a doctor. The sale of drugs to be used as medication is controlled by the Medicines Act 1968.

Those that drive cannot be using alcohol or drugs as indicated in the Road Traffic Act and the Transport and Works Act.  Many tram, rail, and other transportation workers cannot be under the influence of alcohol or drugs then they are working the system. The operator of the system must not allow workers that are unfit to work on the transportation system.

The employer under the Health and Safety at Work Act is responsible for the safety, welfare, and health of the employees. There must be a safety and a health policy in place.

Creating an Alcohol and Drugs Policy

Employers may see drug abuse as a matter for law enforcement and the use of alcohol as a personal matter for the worker unless it’s disruptive in the workplace.

The staff and the managers must know how alcohol and drug abuse is to be handled in the workplace. This will help workers come forward if they need help or they think others need help without the thought of disciplinary action on their shoulders.

The Health Work and Wellbeing booklet provided by ACAS provide information of alcohol and drug policies. It has an emphasis on protecting the worker and offering encouragement so the person can get help in the workplace if they have alcohol or drug problems.

Photo Credit: “Beer O’Clock! #office #Friday #afternoon” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by JoshDMcK

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2013.

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