Neil Donaghy and his team of leading safety experts at Donaghy Safety Training Ltd. look at how to implement a policy to promote health and well-being in your business.
Throughout Europe, alcohol and other drug problems in the workplace are a major factor in accidents, absenteeism and reduced productivity. The cost to employers runs into millions each year, in addition to the personal, social and financial impact on the person and their family.
In the last decade Ireland had the highest increase in alcohol consumption among EU countries with a 41% increase in per capita consumption (hope, 2001). The 2003 slan national lifestyle survey found that 78% of adults in Ireland drink alcohol and of these 30% of males and 22% of females consume more than the recommended weekly limits of reasonable alcohol consumption.
Also, experimental substance use has also increased over the last two decades with the level of substance use in general higher among young people in Ireland than in other countries (Brinkley et al., 1999). Data presented in the 2002 annual report of the European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction (emcdda) estimate that one in five Irish adults between the age of 18 and 64 have used an illegal drug.
The recognition of the cost to industry of alcohol and other drug related problems have given impetus to the development of services aimed at the prevention, early identification and treatment of problems
Why the workplace?
The workplace has been identified as an ideal setting to promote health and well-being through health promotion activities and the implementation of workplace policies. Drug and alcohol issues are of increasing concern for workplaces today.
Alcohol/substance abuse can result in deteriorating health, as well as family and relationship problems, injury, disciplinary action and other work-related problems.
Substance abuse can lead to safety problems affecting the business, the workforce and customers. This ultimately leads to increased costs, lower productivity and can result in the loss of that ‘competitive’ edge a business needs to continuously thrive.
Research shows that a notably high level of performance impairment can occur after relatively low quantities of alcohol and drugs have been consumed (Modell & Mountz, 1990). These findings support the theory of broad based prevention management programmes rather than concentrating on the rehabilitation of heavy drinkers.
There are many benefits for employers who implement an alcohol and drug policy. These include:
– a healthier workforce
– reduced absenteeism, sickness, occupational injuries, late work arrival etc.
– increased productivity and efficiency
– improved staff relations/communications
– an enhanced corporate image and better customer relations
Key elements of a successfully implemented policy
– an alcohol/drug policy provides the precise framework for a business to address such issues in a positive supportive manner while complying with legislation in relation to health & safety in the workplace
– the policy should clearly outline how the business will deal with alcohol/drug issues if they arise
– the policy should be easy to understand, accessible
– it should be communicated in a positive, clearly way, detailing all procedures
– the policy should apply to all employees of all grades
– workplace confidentiality should be addressed
– the policy should be continuously reviewed and monitored
When developing a workplace policy…. Broad consultation is vital for the successful implementation of any workplace policy and should be constructed with relevant input from both inside and outside of the business realm.
Within the business input should include:
– senior management
– human resources (hr) department
– occupational health (oh) department
– health & safety advisors
– employee representatives, to include unions
outside the business input from the following agencies/organisations should be considered:
– local alcohol/drug services
– employer support groups
– local community based organisations/groups
Safety, health and welfare at work act 2005 does not introduce legally binding regulations compelling employers to provide testing for drugs and alcohol at the workplace.
The health & safety authority (HSA) has published voluntary guidelines on intoxicants testing at work.
There are a number of collective agreements at company and sector level relating to testing procedures (mainly in transport and defence).