Employers have been advised to take four steps to reduce the work risks associated with drugs and alcohol, with substance use been linked to a high percentage of workplace injuries and deaths.

Alcohol use is responsible for about five per cent of workplace deaths and up to 11 per cent of workplace injuries, psychologist Ken Pidd and Flinders University Professor Ann Roche say in their paper,  Workplace alcohol and other drug programs: What is good practice? paper, released today.

The annual cost of alcohol-related absenteeism is between $437 million and $1.2 billion, they add.

The paper, written for the Australian Drug Foundation, found working conditions, such as shift work or low levels of supervision, can contribute to stress, which can influence drug and alcohol use patterns.

It also found that a worker’s belief about the acceptability of consuming alcohol or drugs close to or during work hours can be influenced by the absence of a formal workplace drug and alcohol policy.

The paper recommends employers take four steps to combat workplace risks resulting from drug and alcohol use:

1. Introduce a drug and alcohol policy – In developing the policy, employers should conduct a workplace risk assessment that identifies drug and alcohol-related risks to workers’ safety and wellbeing, so they can tailor the policy accordingly, the paper says.

Managers, workers, OHS professionals and unions should be consulted during the development process to ensure “mutually acceptable goals and procedures” are put in place.

The policy should include an employer’s objectives to reduce drug and alcohol risks, its methods of achieving the objectives, and the responsibilities of the employees implementing the policy.

Strategies for dealing with a worker who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol should be detailed in the policy, as well as information on treatment or counselling services and possible disciplinary action following a breach of policy.

2. Educate and train – Educating and training workers and managers is vital in ensuring the policy is credible, accepted and successful, the paper says.

Workers and management should be provided with information on drug and alcohol-related harm in the workplace, factors that might contribute to increased risk of harm, such as job insecurity, and health information including rehabilitation and treatment options, it says.

“In most cases, the success of any workplace response to alcohol and drug-related harm is dependent on changing existing attitudes and behaviours relating to alcohol and drug use.”

Specific training should be provided to workers who will implement and manage the policy to improve their confidence in performing their role, their ability to identify and respond to drug and alcohol-related harm, and their communication skills.

“Training programs need to be regular, ongoing and adaptable to changing circumstances.”

3. Provide access to counselling and other treatment – Employers must ensure workers have access to counselling and treatment services, such as employee assistance programs, that provide workers with relevant skills and knowledge to deal with drug and alcohol-related issues.

Workers must have access to the services at all times, not just following policy breaches.

4. Evaluate – Employers should evaluate the drug and alcohol policy following its introduction to determine: if it has achieved its goals; its strengths, weaknesses and any possible improvements needed; and if it reduced drug and alcohol-related risks and changed workers’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviour surrounding drugs and alcohol.

“Evaluation is a critical, but often overlooked component of good practice responses to workplace alcohol and drug-related harm,” the paper says.

Other steps

Employers could also consider implementing health promotion programs, which focus on the fact that healthy lifestyles aren’t compatible with heavy alcohol consumption and other drug use, or brief interventions, which provide information to workers on an individual’s risk of drug and alcohol-related harm, the paper says.

Other option include peer interventions, which use trained co-workers to recognise drug or alcohol problems and intervene appropriately, or psychosocial skill training, which trains workers in problem solving and goal setting, for example.