Alcohol and other drugs

Drugs, alcohol and other substance abuse in the workplace is, as with any health and safety risk, everyone's responsibility.

Employees unfit for work due to alcohol or other drug use put themselves and other people in the workplace at risk of harm. This is the case whether the drugs were taken outside of work or in the workplace.

In some jobs including road and rail transport, maritime, aviation and mining occupations, the law sets down a legal blood alcohol level and demands testing of workers. Some industries prohibit workers from using any drugs, legal or illegal.

For workers

If you are a worker, under NSW health and safety legislation, you are responsible for your own physical health. You need to:

  • be fit enough to do your job
  • be well enough to do your job
  • not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs or use alcohol or illegal drugs while at work.

This includes the misuse of medicines prescribed by a doctor or available from a pharmacy.

If you or one of your co-workers is impaired at work, you need to address the situation. You could talk about it with your supervisor or manager or speak with a safety representative.

If you need to take prescription medicines, ask your doctor about their effects on your work. If they will affect your ability to perform your tasks speak with your manager.

For employers

Impaired workers can mean increases in lateness, inefficiency, absenteeism, and lost time. Production may decrease due to accidents or damage to plant and equipment.

You need to manage the work-related risks associated with alcohol and other drugs.

Some companies have explicit policies to test their workers for alcohol and illicit substances. This is particularly important if a worker could kill or seriously injure themselves, another worker, or a member of the public.

Workplace drug and alcohol policy

A formal alcohol and drugs policy makes it clear to all workers what behaviour is acceptable.

Developing a policy

In consultation with your workers, or their safety representative or committee, make a commitment to everyone’s health and safety in the workplace.

Undertake an assessment of the risks and stressors in your workplace that could contribute to the harmful use of alcohol and other drugs. Consult with workers about their concerns related to drug use at work. Without consultation, you might overlook something they believe is a risk.

Objectives of the policy

The objectives of the policy need to be clearly stated. They could include:

  • maintaining a safe and healthy work environment
  • reducing the costs associated with drugs, including alcohol, to the organisation and individuals
  • linking action on drug issues with other occupational health and safety initiatives
  • providing access to information on drugs use and encourage those with problems to seek assistance.
Code of behaviour

Clearly state when it is and is not considered appropriate to consume alcohol and drugs in relation to the workplace.

Also make clear what acceptable standards of work performance are in your workplace so workers have a benchmark for their jobs.

These should be discussed and explained during the induction process.

Roles and responsibilities

Specify everyone’s responsibility in the management of the potential health and safety issues.

Specify whose task it is to:

  • monitor work performance
  • report incidents and concerns
  • investigate and document the reports
  • approach an employee who may be intoxicated
  • impose a disciplinary measure
  • refer an affected employee to counselling or rehabilitation
  • keep records
  • evaluate and review the policy.

Identify any special circumstances for high risk duties or safety critical positions. Make clear any additional requirements that apply to these roles.

Testing

When alcohol and/or other drug testing is used, specify the following:

  • the purpose of the testing
  • the type of tests used and testing procedures, including cut-off points for a positive result
  • when and why tests are carried out
  • who may conduct the testing
  • how and where test samples and results are to be stored, handled or destroyed
  • procedures following a positive test including consequences (if any)
  • consequences of refusing to take a test
  • legal rights of those tested
  • the grievance and complaints process
  • how the results of the tests will be reviewed and conveyed to management.
Discipline and outcomes of breaches of the policy

Specify the grounds for transfer, demotion or dismissal for breaches of the drug and alcohol policy. The number of warnings employees will receive before disciplinary measures are imposed needs to be clearly stated. Or specify if there is a no tolerance policy.

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