Healthy Working Lives

As well as legal requirements for employers to control risks from substance misuse, raising awareness of alcohol and drugs issues in the workplace has benefits for individuals and for organisations.

Alcohol misuse – effects and consequences at work

For most people, drinking responsibly can be part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Meanwhile, the inappropriate use of alcohol can damage the health and well-being of employees and have far reaching effects on their personal and working lives.

Persistent heavy drinking can lead to a range of social, psychological and medical problems including dependence, depression, anxiety, changes in behaviour, irritability, cirrhosis of the liver, cancer of the mouth, high blood pressure and heart attacks.

Relationship problems, both personal and work-related, are also at risk, and if not recognised and managed, can lead to more serious consequences.

Alcohol misuse – why employers should act

There are a number of reasons for having a proactive approach to alcohol in the workplace. These include:

  • the health and safety case
  • other legislative requirements
  • the business case
  • corporate image.

Failing to address factors that make a workplace unsafe can place an employer in a serious position as far as health and safety legislation is concerned. There is strong evidence that failing to tackle issues relating to alcohol is costly.

Costs can be due to:

  • increased levels of absenteeism, lateness and sickness absence
  • lower productivity
  • accidents and mistakes
  • unacceptable conduct, which may threaten the Company’s reputation
  • legal action.

Read more on Alcohol as a Workplace Hazard

Drug abuse – effects and consequences at work

Substance or drug abuse refers to the over-indulgence in, and dependence upon, a psychoactive drug leading to effects that are detrimental to the individual’s physical or mental health, or the welfare of others. Inappropriate use of drugs may lead to addiction or substance dependence.

As well as the penalties for offences involving controlled drugs, there are well-documented links between drug use and impairments in cognition, perception, and motor skills, both at the acute and chronic levels.

It therefore follows that drug use or abuse may impact on work performance with the potential to cause accident and injury in the workplace.

It is worth noting that over-the-counter drugs and solvents are often misused, and can be as problematic as illegal drugs in relation to the effects that they have on the individual and the impact that it can have on their behaviour.

Health risks depend on the drugs taken and include:

  • increased risks of developing certain cancers
  • depression and more severe mental health problems
  • brain damage
  • vascular disease.

The social risks are far-reaching and include:

  • financial difficulties
  • effects on family, friends and the wider community
  • contributions to the volume of crime.

Drug abuse – why employers should act

The workplace risks are similar to those listed for alcohol. However, there are additional implications for employers in relation to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Employers must ensure a safe working environment, and therefore are required to manage potential risks linked to the inappropriate use of drugs. These include the health and safety case, the legislative case and the business case.

Additionally, there may be serious legal implications under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 linked to any illegal drugs found in workplace premises.

Read more on Drugs as a Workplace Hazard