Risks from Drinking In and Out of Work Hours

Alcohol is a depressant drug that can slow down the messages to and from the brain and body. Alcohol can affect your problem solving skills, judgment, concentration, reaction times and coordination.

All employees have obligations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1994) to take reasonable care of their own safety and health and not endanger the safety and health of others at the workplace.

Alcohol consumption and your drinking patterns in and out of work hours becomes a workplace safety and health issue when your ability to exercise judgment, coordination, motor control and alertness is affected. Drinking at harmful levels can lead to:

  • reduced ‘fitness for work’ and an increased risk of injury to both yourself and your co-workers and lower quality and quantity of work;
  • poor workplace relationships with co-workers particularly in situations where co-workers may be covering for you in times of absence or reduced productivity; and
  • workplace absenteeism and possible losses of skills, self-esteem and wages.

Maintaining your ‘fitness for work’ and understanding your rights and responsibilities around alcohol use in the Occupational Safety and Health Act and in relevant industry and occupation legislation is important.

Being aware of and familiarising yourself with workplace policy and procedures where they exist, monitoring your alcohol use and its effects on your safety, health and behaviour in and out of work hours is also important.

A raised blood alcohol level while at work jeopardises efficiency and safety by increasing the likelihood of mistakes, errors of judgement, accidents and/or injury to both yourself and your co-workers.

Attending work-related functions, where alcohol is available during work hours may form part of your workplace culture. However, returning to work alcohol-affected, can put your safety and health and that of your co-workers at risk of alcohol-related harm. This may also increase the likelihood of inappropriately responding to situations with customers and co-workers.

In some workplaces, alcohol forms part of work-related functions and events out of working hours as does socialising with co-workers around alcohol at the end of the working day or working week which can cause problems for employees e.g. heavy drinking the night before may result in a high concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream leading to ‘hangover’ effects during work the next day.

Headaches, shakiness, nausea and vomiting as well as irritability, problems concentrating and fatigue can affect your fitness for work, work attendance and performance and relationships with co-workers. If you have experienced these effects, you may benefit from changing your current drinking patterns.

The Alcohol Risk Assessment Tool can assist you to assess your drinking and our Tips and Advice can assist you on staying within low-risk drinking limits when attending work-related functions, events and social activities.

Similarly, if your co-worker is under the influence of alcohol or experiencing ‘hangover’ effects, this can put you and others at risk. If you have concerns regarding a co-worker’s use of alcohol and fitness for work contact your workplace health and safety representative, manager or supervisor.

“A third of Australian workers have experienced the negative effects of a co-worker’s use of alcohol, with 3.5% of workers reporting having to work extra hours to cover for others”1.

Further Information
  • Call the Alcohol and Drug Support Line on (08) 9442 5000 for a confidential chat. The service's professional drug and alcohol counsellors will listen, explain your options and answer any questions you might have. They can also refer you to other services and support groups for ongoing support.

    Confidentially chat online with a qualified Alcohol and Drug Support Line counsellor via Live Chat.

VicHealth. (2012). Reducing alcohol-related harm in the workplace. An evidence review: summary report. Victorian Heath Promotion Foundation, Melbourne, Australia.

Page last updated: 20 July 2020

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