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Substance and alcohol use/abuse

Although this issue is primarily dealt with by employment legislation through rules of conduct, it has serious health and safety implications. Therefore employers should recognise that substance and alcohol abuse is a major medical and social problem, with profound occupational health implications.

In organisations where the availability of drugs, substances and alcohol form a part of the business undertaking, it is important to ensure that quantities are adequately monitored and secured. This will ensure that employees do not have free and easy access to any potentially addictive substance e.g. morphine based medication in a care home.

Should you fail to detect employees within your organisation that are under the influence of alcohol, drugs or solvent related abuse then this may lead to serious injury or even fatality. This is due to the fact that these substances can cause severe impairment of judgement, can affect a person’s balance and invoke mood swings.

Legal Duties

Under general health and safety legislation the welfare of employees is a major consideration and situations that arise involving this issue, within your organisation, should be dealt with in the proper manner.

How to Control Substance and Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace?

Employers should emphasise their commitment to help members of staff who may be suffering from alcohol, drug or solvent-related problems.

Substance and alcohol abuse problems in employment may present themselves in different ways. Where an employee appears to be intoxicated or abusing any substance at work a disciplinary procedure may be invoked. This is should be dealt with in accordance with company employment contract procedures.

However, where no breach of discipline occurs and an employee appears to have a problem, then the following principles should be followed:

  • The focus of management concern should be connected to the issue of job health and safety performance. No judgement about substance and / or alcohol abuse should be made. This is due to the fact that specialist assistance may be required.
  • An employee with a problem relating to substance and / or alcohol abuse should receive the same care and consideration that the organisation extends to employees having any other form of illness.

Should a member of staff raise an issue of concern their employer then they should support them in the correct manner. This will require, where necessary, that the employer seeks specialist advice and the time off to enable the employee to attend any consultation sessions. All this should be in the strictest confidence.

It is good practice to encourage health awareness within a coompnay. This may require input from your local Health Service Executive who may be able to provide you with the necessary leaflets and information seminars.

Companies should encourage employees to recognise their own problems relating to alcohol, drugs or solvents and to seek professional advice and help. If the employee fails to seek help for his / her problem, then the successful operation of this policy should rest with the Line Manager’s ability to recognise a problem of substance and / or alcohol abuse amongst his / her staff as early as possible.

There are various indicators that may lead Line Managers to believe that a substance and / or alcohol abuse problem exists:

  • Unexplained deterioration in job performance
  • Sporadic lateness and absenteeism
  • Unreliability
  • Poor relations with colleagues
  • Impaired concentration, memory and judgment
  • Increased number of errors / accidents
  • Irrational behaviour

The above could all be due to a number of different factors but they may be signs that someone has a substance and / or alcohol related problem. If the Line Manager believes that anyone in his / her department may have a problem, then the Line Manager must seek advice from a Senior Manager. Concerns should then be discussed with a view to assisting the employee in entering an appropriate rehabilitation / treatment programme.

The employees’ Line Manager should be informed of any necessary absence from work, but no confidential information should be disclosed. The employee should be granted the necessary sick leave if treatment is required.

The company should recognise that the employee may require some time off after his / her return to work to maintain the rehabilitation programme.

The employee should understand that his / her continued employment depends on his / her ability to maintain a satisfactory work performance. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action.

Companies should offer help and / or rehabilitation to employees who have an identified substance and / or alcohol abuse problem. Should the employee decline to avail themselves of this, discontinue the rehabilitation programme before satisfactory completion, or whose work standards remain unacceptable, they may then become subject to disciplinary procedures.

Peninsula Comment

The main concerns for employers are the fact that these substances can cause severe impairment of judgement that could lead to serious injury or even a fatality in the workplace.

Employers should adopt a substance misuse policy, in consultation with their staff. The policy should aim to support affected employees rather than punish them. Generally screening programmes in the workplace need to be agreed with unions and employees when putting together a policy relating to substance and alcohol abuse and a testing procedure. Should you require any further information on substance abuse in the workplace please call the Peninsula Health and Safety Advice line on 01 855 50 50.

Should you wish to discuss individual circumstances, you should contact our 24 Hour Advice Line for further assistance or visit us at: Peninsula Ireland