Drug and alcohol consumption isn’t always a concern; many drugs, including caffeine and medically prescribed drugs, are legal for workers to consume at work. But drug and alcohol consumption becomes an issue when workers misuse or abuse them.

Workers found to have engaged in illegal practices, e.g. using or possessing illicit drugs or operating a heavy vehicle while intoxicated, may be prosecuted under criminal legislation.

You must implement control measures to manage the risks of alcohol and drug abuse if you have identified and assessed them at your workplace.

Controls you may choose to implement include:

  • a drug and alcohol policy;
  • education and training for workers;
  • drug and alcohol testing; and
  • directing workers to advise you if they are taking medication that may affect their work.

To manage the risks associated with alcohol and drugs in your workplace, you will need to implement a drug and alcohol policy. But before you do, consult with relevant stakeholders, including workers, unions and health and safety representatives, about the terms of the policy and the reasons for its introduction.

This will help minimise any fear, confusion or concerns regarding a perceived invasion of privacy. It is also likely to increase compliance with the policy.

Your policy should focus on preventing drug and alcohol abuse rather than punishing workers for using drugs or alcohol.

The policy must be clearly written, reasonable, consistent and fair. Communicate the policy to all workers and provide appropriate training so they are in no doubt about its content. Make sure that all of your workers fully understand the drug and alcohol policy and the consequences of breaching it.

Ensure all workers sign off as having read and understood the policy.

The type of policy you implement will depend on whether your workplace is low-risk see below or high-risk.

A low-risk workplace is a workplace in which the level of risk, or risk that could result in serious injury or illness, is low, such as an office workplace. Your policy should outline the standards of behaviour expected of workers and the circumstances in which alcohol and legal drug use is permitted, e.g. restricting the consumption of alcohol to one standard drink at a work-related lunch for clients.

Even if your workplace is low-risk, a drug and alcohol policy will demonstrate your commitment to a healthy and safe workplace, and clearly communicate your business’s position in relation to drugs and alcohol.

A high-risk workplace is a workplace with a high number of hazards and significant risk of serious injury or illness occurring onsite, such as at a construction site, a transport depot, a busy loading dock or at a mine site.

Zero tolerance

If you operate a high-risk workplace, a zero tolerance policy may be appropriate. Zero tolerance towards drugs and alcohol means that the presence and consumption of drugs and alcohol in your workplace is strictly prohibited.

Workers are not permitted to work if they have any drugs or alcohol present in their bodies. A zero tolerance policy may be needed in these workplaces to protect workers and the general public.

It is estimated that approximately 5% of workplace deaths each year are caused by alcohol consumption.

You must be able to justify zero tolerance policy on reasonable health and safety grounds. If you do not have sufficient grounds, workers who are disciplined or dismissed under a zero tolerance policy could challenge the reasonableness of your policy.

Tribunals, such as the Fair Work Commission, focus on whether a worker poses a risk to themselves or others, rather than the presence of drugs or alcohol in a worker’s system. You should take this into account when preparing your drug and alcohol policy.

When deciding whether to adopt a zero tolerance policy in your workplace, consider:

  • the severity of any hazards and risks that would be created by a worker impaired by drugs or alcohol in your workplace;
  • the availability of drugs and alcohol in the workplace, e.g. if the worker works in a pharmacy, aged-care facility or licensed venue such as a bar, the rules in your policy should be stricter; and
  • whether drug or alcohol abuse is a problem in your workplace due to past incidents or excessive absenteeism.

Rather than focus on punishment, encourage your workers to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and emphasise the negative health effects caused by drug and alcohol abuse. You must also train your workers in your drugs and alcohol policy.

Your supervisors, managers and health and safety representatives should be trained to identify signs of alcohol or drug abuse, such as mood swings, confrontational attitude, poor morale and changes in behaviour.

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