Managing alcohol risk related issues in the Australian workplace do not always offer a straightforward solutions. Workers who labour and drink during work hours have certain problems on workplace safety and productivity. This considers the frequency of consumption of alcohol outside the workplace and beyond working hours. The employer who is punished on use of alcohol through hospitality at work related events may suffer consequences on legal liabilities and corporate image.
It is estimated that alcohol use by an employee contributed to approximately 5% of Australian workplace deaths and 4% to 11% of non fatal workplace injuries. Alcholism can incur an annual cost of absenteeism to an estimated $437 million to $1.2B. For public health and policy practice, it is an imperative for Australian employers to reduce the negative outcomes of alcohol. Social and economic costs associated to workplace injuries, death and productivity deterioration are not only the responsibility of employers, but also the wider community.
Work safety strategists have argued for a shift away from the traditional approach to managing alcohol and related hazards in the workplace to a broader primary prevention approach. There are two basic components of such an approach that are central to good practice responses that are likely to be effective:
1. Standard Workplace Policy
As the work safety norm dictates, the policy should be documented comprehensively that contain all the objectives, methods of arriving at the objective and the detailed responsibilities of personnel in charge to enforce the policy. The policy should outline the organisation's position on alcohol with guidelines and strategies. Under what conditions alcohol is made available at workplace functions and incorporation of strategies are considered. One approach is ADF's "Good Host" program. The program assists in mitigating alcohol related risks at workplace social events. Thus, this could help in policy formulation on treatment and counselling services and details of disciplinary action that may be taken if the policy is breached.
The success of an alcohol workplace policy hinges on its credibility and acceptance. It is also reliant on the attitudes and actions of supervisors, safety personnel and employee labor leaders. Training enhances management capability and supervision as it sharpens skills on how to communicate with employees. Training programs need to be on a regular basis, ongoing and adaptable to changes.
3. Counselling and Treatment
This is a very important component of workplace safety response to employees under the influence of alcohol. Employers can offer treatment services through an employee assistance program (EAP) or pay for it as a company benefit. Employees should have the opportunity to access counselling services voluntarily as access to this is compulsory when workers breached the policies. The workers should likewise be assisted to access the counselling and treatment services and be granted with paid or unpaid leaves to attend. Confidentiality of the matter must be assured. Access to counselling mitigates financial costs and morale loss amongst co-employees that is subjected with dismissal. It is less punitive than instant dismissal for policy breach and thus more welcome for most employees.