Facts about Alcohol and Workplace Issues
Alcohol is a depressant drug that can slow down the messages to and from the brain and body. Alcohol can affect problem solving skills, judgment, concentration, reaction times and coordination. Alcohol can have negative consequences on ‘fitness for work’ and individual health and well-being in the short-term and in the long-term.
Alcohol and Short-term Harm
Short-term harm may occur as a result of one (single) drinking occasion. The short-term harms of alcohol can not only impact the individual, but also on co-workers, customers and clients and family, friends and members of the community.
With every drink, the risk of inappropriate behaviour and accidents and/or injury increase for the person drinking and others around them. Alcohol increases the likelihood of:
- a person being involved in anti-social behaviour
- conflict, that can lead to fights and violence
- injuries including road crashes, pedestrian injury, assaults, burns, poisonings, falls, drownings and workplace injuries
- workplace injuries
- unprotected or unwanted sexual encounters
- problems that occur with friends and family. 1 2 3
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. Hangover effects can result in headaches, shakiness, nausea and vomiting as well as irritability, problems concentrating and fatigue; these effects can affect fitness for work, work attendance and performance and relationships with co-workers.
Alcohol and Long-term Harm
Alcohol consumption can have long-term impacts on an individual's health. Regular drinking can cause long-term damage to the body and there are a significant number of alcohol-related diseases and health problems caused by alcohol consumption in Australia, including:
- cancer (bowel, breast, throat, mouth, bowel, liver)
- liver disease
- cardiovascular disease
- mental health problems.
Alcohol and the Workplace
Population Groups Most at Risk
Patterns of alcohol use vary across industries and occupational groups. Some industries and occupational groups report higher proportions of risky or harmful drinking patterns than other occupational groups. This can be influenced by the people employed in the workplace, the nature of the work, the work environment and workplace culture.
Population groups reporting they are most likely to engage in risky drinking include 3 4:
- male workers;
- young workers aged 14 -29 years;
- tradespersons and those employed in lower skilled and manual occupations; and
- individuals employed in the hospitality, mining, agriculture, retail, manufacturing, construction and financial services industries.
Workplace Culture and Workplace Factors
The availability of alcohol and workplace culture including attitudes, behaviours and expectations around drinking in work-related environments can influence individual alcohol use and drinking patterns and the impact of alcohol-related harm on the safety and health and overall productivity of the workplace.
Workplace factors, including working conditions, workplace customs, practices and environments can increase the risk of individual alcohol use and influence individual drinking patterns including:4
- isolation e.g. employees working in isolated areas who are separated from family and friends may be more likely to consume alcohol as a result of boredom, loneliness or lack of social activities, or social activities where the priority focus in drinking;
- extended working hours or shift work;
- interpersonal factors including workplace relationships, bullying and harassment;
- poor working conditions including hot and dangerous environments;
- inadequate supervision;
- inadequate job design and training, which may lead to low job satisfaction and/or work-related stress; and
- organisational change e.g. restructure, job transfer or redundancy.
Alcohol and Work Performance
Alcohol use and harmful drinking can have a number of adverse impacts on workplaces 6. These include:
- Safety, an unsafe work environment with risks and accidents resulting in injury and or death particularly in occupations involving operating heavy machinery or driving vehicles.
- Workplace relationships with co-workers and clients and customers. The effects of alcohol can impact on behaviour e.g. an individual affected by alcohol may act unprofessionally towards clients and customers in work situations; co-workers may be resentful for covering for others affected by alcohol or the 'hangover' effects of alcohol.
- Lower workplace productivity due to short-term absenteeism and a lower quality and quantity of work due to poor decision making and disruption to operations and co-workers covering for alcohol-affected employees.
- Workplace economy with long-term alcohol-related burden attributed to compensation and employer liabilities; loss of skills and employees; and the related costs of replacement and training new employees.
Occupational Safety and Health Responsibilities
Monitoring work-related alcohol use and its effects on safety, health, and behaviour in the workplace is everyone's responsibility.
All employers and employees have safety and health responsibilities and obligations in relation to the workplace.
- Employers have a legal obligation to respond to alcohol use and related-harm in the workplace through 'duty of care' provisions under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1994).
- Employees have an obligation to take reasonable care of their own safety and health and not endanger the safety and health of others at the workplace7.
Relevant industry and occupational legislation relating to alcohol, as well as specific workplace policies and procedures, where they exist, also applies.
Maintaining an awareness of and knowledge around alcohol safety and health obligations is important.
Developing a safe workplace culture, aimed at preventing and managing alcohol-related harm and issues in your workplace, is a process that is best served by employer and management commitment and the involvement, support and cooperation of all employees including managers, supervisors and safety and health representatives.
Good workplace responses should be consistent with your workplace's occupational safety and health framework and overall approach to risk management. Responses that incorporate a range of strategies targeted at both the employer and employees and those that are tailored to the unique needs of your workplace are more likely to be effective 4 8.
These responses include:
- Fitness for Work Alcohol Policy
- Workplace health promotion
- Education and training programs
- Access to support, treatment and counselling services
- Workplace alcohol testing
NHMRC National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra
Loxley, W., Toumbourou, J., Stockwell, TR. et al (2004). The Prevention of Substance Use, Risk and Harm in Australia: A review of the Evidence. National Drug Research Institute and the Centre for Adolescent Health.
Chikritzhs, T., Pasca,l R., Jones, P. (2004). Under-Aged Drinking Among 14-17 Year Olds and Related Harms in Australia. National Alcohol Indicators Bulletin No. 7, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology, Perth
VicHealth. (2012). Reducing alcohol-related harm in the workplace (An evidence review: summary report), Victorian Heath Promotion Foundation, Melbourne, Australia.
National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction. (2006). Information and Data Sheet 1: Workers Patterns of Alcohol Consumption. Flinders University.
Australian Drug Foundation. (2009). Alcohol and the Workplace: the right and responsibilities of employer.
Commission for Occupational Health and Safety. (2008). Guidance Note Alcohol and Other drugs at the Workplace. MIAC.
Allsop, S., Phillips, M. and Calogero, C. (2001). Drugs and work: responding to alcohol and other drug problems in Australian workplaces. Melbourne. Australia.
Page last updated: 20 July 2020