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Business Health Centre
The start of a New Year encourages many of us try to turn over a new leaf to live more healthily – witness, for example, the 5 million Britons who took part in Alcohol Concern’s Dry January in 20171. For some alcohol, drug or substance misuse is a bigger challenge to overcome. And, for their employers, it can mean more sickness absence, increased staff turnover and lost productivity. In short, it can be a big issue, but not an insurmountable one. Introducing an alcohol, drug and substance misuse policy can help address and provide a way forward for what can be a very sensitive and personal problem for the employee and a difficult issue for the line manager. Indeed, having such a policy in place should be an essential part of any employer’s strategy for protecting workplace health and safety and creating a framework that equally supports all parties – the company, line manager and employee.
But first, back to basics.
Misuse is where drinking alcoholic beverages or taking illegal, prescribed or over the counter drugs (when not for a medical condition), or other substances such as solvents so that it interferes with the user’s health, social functioning and/or conduct and capability. Misuse can be intermittent or ongoing.
One thing is clear. Drink and drug problems cost the economy as well as the individual:
One of the main reasons for having an alcohol, drugs and substance misuse policy is to help employers ensure they meet their duty of care to protect the health and safety of employees and members of the public. Employers that knowingly allow employees to work while under the influence of drink or drugs can be prosecuted under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Those in the transport sector may additionally be prosecuted under the Transport and Works Act 1992 if they don’t show due diligence in this regard.
As well as putting your company at risk of legal action there is also The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. These require employers to ensure employees have undertaken a risk relating to their workplace activity. This can include risks arising from potential alcohol and drug misuse. And, under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, employers who knowingly permit the production, supply or taking of controlled drugs on their premises could be committing a criminal offence.
In addition to helping employers meet their regulatory requirements, introducing an alcohol, drug and substance misuse policy can help them to reduce workplace accidents and injuries, sickness absence and presenteeism – that is, working when unwell or hungover. Employees can benefit too when their employer takes a positive, supportive approach to addressing the issue, for example, by providing awareness programmes on the pitfalls of alcohol, drug and substance misuse. The policy should also encourage early identification and support for at-risk or affected individuals to help prevent problems or potential problems from escalating.
Positioning should be constructive, emphasising the employer’s commitment to building a positive, supportive workplace culture that safeguards employee health and wellbeing. For this to be credible, the buy-in and visible support of the company’s leadership is essential. The company must also take care to ensure they’re not part of the problem – for instance, by encouraging or turning a blind eye to a workplace drinking culture.
A policy should:
Employers whose operations include safety critical jobs may also need to introduce a workplace random testing programme to meet statutory requirements to safeguard their employees and members of the public.
Finally, to help secure employee buy-in to the policy, it’s prudent to consult with employee or health and safety representatives when drawing it up.
The policy should be included in the company’s employee handbook and drawn to the employee’s attention at the time of joining the company. Additions or amendments should be shared through the company’s usual channels for employee communications.
Resources such as awareness-raising, educational material should be actively promoted, both for preventive purposes and to remind employees who may have a problem that help is available – and where to get it.
Managers should be properly trained and supported to recognise and approach employees affected by alcohol, drug or substance misuse. That includes knowing what to do when an employee turns up at work smelling of alcohol or seemingly under the influence of drugs. Again, abnormal behaviour from an employee may have other causes so it’s important for managers not to leap to conclusions but, rather, speak to the employee to try to understand what’s troubling them. Remind them how the company’s misuse policy applies and guide them to suitable support, empathetically.
Dr Habbab joined AXA PPP healthcare in November 2010 as a Consultant Occupational Health Physician and took on the role of Medical Director in 2015. Yousef takes responsibility for medical standards and service delivery of our Occupational Health physicians and is responsible for clinical governance within our health services. He is supported by the dedicated clinical governance manager and team.
As Medical Director he is responsible for strategic planning and key client support and is a member of the Senior Leadership Team. Yousef is a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and Member of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians in London.
The Health and Safety Executive’s guides Don’t mix it6 and Drug misuse at work7 are good sources of further information and advice for employers on managing alcohol, drug and substance misuse at work.
AXA PPP healthcare