Framework to manage the risks of alcohol and other drugs at work
The information below outlines a framework for developing a policy on reducing the work-related risks associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs. This should be in the context of managing all health and chronic disease risks within the organisation.
The framework applies to all workplaces. Some industries and occupational groups are covered by specific legislation that regulates the use of alcohol and other drugs in the workplace, such as rail, passenger transport and heavy vehicles. Other industries such as mining and aviation prohibit workers from working while affected by alcohol or other drugs.
An effective policy should include information on each of the areas contained in the summary shown in Appendix 1.
The decision by a workplace to introduce an alcohol and other drugs policy should be guided by:
- the perceived extent of alcohol and other drug use
- the identification that alcohol and other drug use is a hazard at the workplace
- the assessment of the associated risks and the individual requirements of the workplace.
If a policy is implemented, it can be incorporated into an existing occupational health and safety program. Use of the work health and wellbeing toolkit can also assist by integrating health, safety and wellbeing to manage alcohol and other drugs at work.
1. Conduct a risk assessment.
An alcohol and other drugs policy should be based on the outcomes of a risk assessment. This will identify both external and internal conditions, the appropriate nature and content of the policy, and suitable strategies for implementation.
The degree of risk from workers affected by alcohol and other drug use will depend on a number of factors including:
- whether the workplace operates high-risk machinery, such as heavy vehicles and/or mobile plant or handles hazardous chemicals or dangerous goods
- whether the workplace is a high-risk environment that involves working from heights
- whether the organisational culture, nature of the work or workplace practices encourage alcohol or other drug use at work or home such as hours of work, shift work
- the availability of alcohol at the workplace. Some workers may be more exposed to the risk of alcohol consumption at work such as those working in licensed premises.
Risk assessments should be conducted in accordance with the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) .
2. Establish a representative group to formulate and implement the policy.
Establish a group to oversee the development of the policy that includes workers, worker representatives or health and safety representatives (HSRs) and management representatives; or use existing health and safety committees to develop the policy. Ensure the group clearly identifies its objectives and has adequate resources to carry them out.
3. Develop the policy in consultation with workers.
Develop the policy through an open process that seeks input from workers, worker representatives, or HSRs and if possible, professional alcohol and other drugs support networks. Specific steps would be to:
- develop procedures and a timetable for implementing the policy starting with an education program
- develop a preliminary draft policy and have it reviewed by the representative group overseeing its development
- seek feedback on a draft policy from all at the workplace who may be affected by its operation (including workers, independent contractors and/or workers of the independent contractor)
- where appropriate, feedback received should be incorporated into the document
- present a draft policy to the health and safety committee, where one exists, for its consideration
- present a final draft policy to management for endorsement
- distribute the endorsed policy to all workers and others at the workplace
- ensure the policy is readily available; for example, pin it on the company noticeboard or upload it to the company intranet.
Undertake a risk assessment to identify workplace factors that may impact on the use of alcohol and other drugs, and the nature of risk arising from the use of alcohol and other drugs by workers and others. The outcomes of the risk assessment will help shape the content of the policy.
4. Adopt effective communication strategies.
This approach ensures regular feedback is provided to workers and will give workers a sense of ownership of the policy, making it more likely to be accepted and followed at the workplace when it is introduced.
5. Plan and implement interventions to manage risks of alcohol and drugs.
The work health and wellbeing intervention tool (PDF, 0.34 MB) should be used to provide guidance on harmful alcohol consumption, along with other chronic disease risk factors. Interventions should be based on good work design, and work factors that may contribute to harmful alcohol consumption in terms of work organisation, environment and workers directed should be considered in the design. The tool also has examples of specific interventions.
Provide information, education and training to workers to enable them to perform their work safely. Providing information on alcohol and other drug use can help to ensure that all workers are aware of the issues associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs and how this may impact on health and safety in the workplace.
Provide comprehensive information, instruction and training to workers on the content and operation of the policy. The policy should be well communicated within the workplace. Effective ways to communicate the policy may include briefings, team meetings, posters on notices boards, and emails or texts to workers. Details of the policy should be included in induction materials and ongoing information, education and training provided to workers.
Provide specific training for managers, supervisors, and health and safety representatives (HSRs) about how to identify workers affected by alcohol or other drugs, how to manage the associated risk, and their specific responsibilities under the alcohol and other drugs policy. Information provided to workers may include:
- what constitutes harmful alcohol consumption and other drug use
- what to do if they suspect a co-worker is affected by alcohol or other drugs
- the effects of alcohol and other drugs on health, safety and work performance
- general statistics on workplace alcohol and other drug use and related accidents
- the consequences for workers who fail to comply with the workplace alcohol and other drugs policy
- workplace and personal lifestyle stressors that can contribute to alcohol and other drugs use
- personal stress reduction methods
- who to approach in the workplace for assistance with an alcohol or other drugs problem
- the legal position (rights and penalties) of workers and management in relation to alcohol and other drug use as specified in the work health and safety laws, employment agreements, award or industry-specific legislation
- counselling, treatment and rehabilitation services available in the workplace and contact details for services available externally. This could be achieved via an Employee Assistance Program for workplaces that have one in place.
Identification of a worker not fit for work as a result of alcohol and/or other drug use
Clearly specify procedures for identifying workers who appear to be impaired by alcohol and/or other drugs. If procedures are not clear, workers are unlikely to implement them, and uncertainty will almost certainly arise.
Self-assessment by workers
Specify in the policy that workers are not to attend work if they have consumed alcohol and/or other drugs that affect their ability to work safely, and that workers should not remain at the workplace if they become affected by alcohol and/or other drugs.
Approaching a worker under the influence
Clearly outline and communicate the procedures for managing a worker suspected of being impaired by alcohol and/or other drugs at the workplace, including who should approach workers who appear to be affected by alcohol or other drugs. Designated persons (managers, supervisors, HSRs and/or fellow workers) should be properly trained in the most effective style of approach and be provided with clear information about the scope and nature of their responsibility under the procedure. The procedure should address situations where escalation is required and should also outline steps for initiating police or ambulance intervention if the situation cannot be safely managed at the workplace level. Procedures should ensure that there are steps in place to ensure that the worker is able to get home safely.
Approaches may differ depending on the nature of the workplace and the particular circumstances of the case. Relevant factors may include:
- the nature of the industry
- the workplace culture and structure
- the work carried out by the worker
- the personality of the worker
- whether it is a case of suspected long-term harmful use, or a ‘one-off’ situation.
The procedure for counselling, and if necessary, disciplining workers whose work performance indicates there may be a problem with the use of alcohol and/or other drugs should be consistent with existing awards, agreements and other established counselling and disciplinary measures that apply in the workplace.
Workers should be encouraged to recognise poor and unsafe work performance and encouraged to take steps to address the issues contributing to their behaviour.
Evaluation is an essential component of the policy, and assesses how well the policy meets its objectives, ensures accountability at the managerial and organisational level, and provides important information for predicting future policy success or failure.
Evaluation of the policy should be undertaken in consultation with workers, Health and Safety Committees, and HSRs, where these exist. Potential issues for consideration in evaluation of an alcohol and other drugs policy include:
- the achievement of anticipated outcomes
- the identification of affected workers
- monitoring the effectiveness of the policy
- the effectiveness of treatment and counselling interventions.
When considering the introduction of alcohol or drug testing, employers should ensure workplace policies and programs are appropriate to the level of risk by doing a risk assessment. Testing is one of a variety of control measures that can be used, and its applicability in the workplace should be carefully considered (see Precautions).
Alcohol or drug testing can include the following methods:
- breath tests
- urine drug tests
- saliva tests.
The Work Health and Safety laws do not mandate, require or prohibit testing. Some workplaces may require testing as part of their alcohol and other drugs management plan and industrial agreements. If testing is being considered as a control measure, independent legal advice may be required.
The decision to adopt a testing regime should be made in consultation with workers, HSRs and worker representatives. Testing may be an appropriate response where a risk assessment has identified the risks of undertaking certain activities while under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs.
There are legislative provisions currently in place for specific occupational groups in relation to the consumption of alcohol and other drugs in the workplace. For example, laws protect public safety in transport (covering commercial road transport, the railways, civil aviation, and marine transport) through restrictions on the use of alcohol and other drugs.
Employers may wish to consider the appointment of a Medical Review Officer (MRO) to assist with alcohol and other drug testing in their workplace. The use of MROs in workplace testing programs helps manage privacy and confidentiality issues as well as sample collection, results storage and legal challenges. MROs are registered medical practitioners who have knowledge and understanding of:
- substance abuse disorders and their management
- testing procedures
- interpretation of test results including alternative medical explanations for laboratory confirmed test results as well issues relating to contaminated and/or substituted specimens
- ethical and privacy issues surrounding workplace alcohol and other drugs testing
- laboratory methodology and quality control
- legislation and recommended standards in relation to alcohol and other drug testing programs
- fitness for work and other medical-related safety issues.
Testing may be intrusive and raises confidentiality and privacy issues. The following precautions must be considered before implementing alcohol and other drugs testing:
- Excluding alcohol testing, a positive drug test is not always directly related to impairment.
- There is a possibility of inaccurate results and false positives in drug testing. There may also be issues related to insufficient integrity of the testing process and the interpretation of results.
- Drug testing has limits and can be subject to legal challenge.
- If a worker refuses to be tested, it cannot be presumed that they are intoxicated. A worker may have a valid reason to refuse to be tested, unless specific legislation, contracts or employment agreements provide otherwise.
- Testing should be part of a comprehensive alcohol and other drugs program and supported by appropriate safeguards, clear policy and procedures, and the provision of information, instruction, education and support.
- Consultation with workers is necessary. While consultation does not require agreement, given the intrusive nature of drug testing, agreement by workers to a testing regime is preferable.
- Issues relating to privacy and confidentially of workers need to be considered.
Procedures should be developed on how to address the situation where a worker refuses to be tested.
If testing is introduced, written procedures for testing and an implementation timetable should be communicated to workers. Employers should also ensure procedures are developed to address the workers' return to work and any future testing obligations.
Appropriate safeguards should be put in place, which ensure:
- cut-off points for a positive result are selected and clear
- testing is conducted in accordance with the relevant Australian Standards (AS3547: 2019 Breath Alcohol testing Devices; AS4760: 2019 Procedures for Specimen Collection and the Detection and Quantitation of Drugs in oral fluid and AS/NZ 4308:2008 – Procedures for Specimen Collection and the Detection and Quantitation of Drugs of Abuse in Urine)
- there is no discrimination in the selection of workers for testing
- there are well defined procedures indicating who the final result will be communicated to
- confidentiality is protected and the procedures identify who will have access to the results, who will interpret them, how the results will be stored and for how long
- there is a grievance and complaints process, including accepted procedures to challenge the outcome of a test
- procedures are put in place for workers to travel home safely following a positive test.
There are various forms of testing programs that employers can use, and the following is recommended:
- Voluntary self-testing – providing facilities for a worker to self-test at the workplace – a worker who self-tests should not attract disciplinary action if test confirms positive result in order to encourage responsible behaviour.
- Random testing – any worker or a select group of workers, including management, may be tested on a random day.
- Upon reasonable belief – a worker who shows signs of being affected by alcohol and/or other drugs should be considered for testing. When a worker is suspected of being affected at work primary consideration must be given to the safety of the individual and of others.
- Testing after a workplace health and safety incident – a worker may be required to submit to an alcohol and/or other drugs test if they are involved in an incident.
The management of workers affected by medication, including prescription and over-the-counter medication, needs to be considered. Employers and managers must not request unnecessary information. If a worker is taking medication that has the potential to adversely impact on safety, they must notify their supervisor or manager. A worker is not required to reveal the nature of the condition being treated or the type of medication, only that they are taking medication which has the potential to adversely impact upon safety.
Management of positive tests
Procedures for managing a worker who returns a positive test needs to be developed through a consultative process and communicated to everyone at the workplace.
Follow-up action and outcomes from a positive test should be made clear in the policy. In the event of a positive test, the worker concerned should:
- be removed from the workplace or encouraged to remain in a safe location at the workplaceuntil it is safe for the person to resume work or travel home
- be provided with counselling and assistance as agreed and outlined in the policy
- be provided with further education and awareness training as agreed and outlined in the policy
- undergo the disciplinary action agreed and outlined in the policy.
Arrangements should be put in place to ensure a worker can commute home safely.
In the event of a negative test result, the worker returns to work and no record of the test is kept.
The policy should cover procedures regarding re-testing following an initial positive alcohol and/or drug test including re-testing prior to returning to work. The re-testing should be undertaken using the same method as the initial test and conducted by a quality assured individual or organisation in accordance with the relevant Australian Standards (AS/NZ 4308-2008 and AS 4760-2006). Re-testing may give rise to the worker undergoing disciplinary procedures and being referred to an Employee Assistance Program.
The procedure for the counselling and, if necessary, disciplining workers following a positive test should be consistent with existing awards, agreements and other established counselling and disciplinary measures which apply in the workplace. The policy should clearly set out what constitutes an infringement in relation to the policy and what happens when an infringement occurs, such as warnings, demotion or dismissal.
The policy should also identify complaint and grievance procedures, including processes to review breaches. Employers and workers should keep confidential the proceedings of any complaint and grievance procedure.
The Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) is the principal piece of Australian legislation protecting the handling of personal information by employers about workers. This includes the collection, use, storage and disclosure of personal information. It aims to protect the personal information they hold from misuse, interference, loss and from unauthorised access, modification or disclosure. All information concerning a worker is strictly confidential and the WHS laws are also careful to protect the privacy of workers.
Developed in consultation with workers, Health and Safety Committees, and Health and Safety Representatives where these exist.
Use the information contained in this guide to introduce and discuss the use of alcohol and other drugs at work and the need for the development of a policy statement for the organisation. Make a commitment to a safe, healthy and productive workplace and a willingness to consult with workers and their representatives. Consider the stressors in the workplace that could contribute to the harmful use of alcohol and other drugs.
Clearly state the aims and expected outcomes arising from the policy. The objectives of the policy should be clearly stated. For example, the policy should aim to:
- maintain a safe and healthy work environment
- reduce the costs associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs to the organisation and individuals
- link action on alcohol and other drugs with other occupational health and safety initiatives
- provide access to information on alcohol and other drug use and encourage those with problems to seek assistance.
Specify the name of the company, the branch, the physical location and the workers, management and others, e.g. contractors and sub-contractors covered by the policy.
Code of behaviour
Spell out the code of behaviour required by workers, management and others when at work. This should include:
- when it is considered appropriate and not appropriate to consume alcohol and other drugs (such as prescription medication) in relation to work
- acceptable standards of work performance.
Roles and responsibilities
Specify the scope of everyone’s responsibility to contribute to the management of the problem.
Specify whose task it is to:
- monitor work performance
- report incidents and concerns
- investigate and document such reports
- approach a worker who may be intoxicated
- impose a corrective measure
- refer an affected worker to counselling/rehabilitation
- keep records
- evaluate the policy.
Some high-risk duties or professions may need special requirements. Identify all safety critical positions and special requirements that apply.
Specify workers who may require:
- alcohol and other drugs testing
- specific training
- disciplinary measures for breaches.
If alcohol and/or other drug testing is used, specify the following:
- the purpose of testing for the presence of alcohol or other drugs
- the type of tests used and testing procedures, including cut-off points for a positive result
- procedure for voluntary self-testing
- whether a Medical Review Officer (MRO) will be used
- circumstances when tests are carried out
- confidentiality provisions around testing and testing results
- who may conduct the tests
- how and where test samples and results are to be stored, handled or destroyed
- procedures following a positive test including consequences (if any)
- consequences of refusing to take a test
- legal rights of those tested
- the grievance and complaints process
- how the results of the tests will be reviewed and conveyed to management, e.g., through the use of an MRO.
Specify the grounds for transfer, demotion or dismissal for breaches of the policy and the number of warnings workers will be given before discipline is imposed.
Services available in Queensland
- National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline - 1800 250 015 for free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drugs.
- 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84) a 24/7 phone service for health advice and information about health services
- Alcohol and drug information service: 1800 177 833; provides Queensland-wide 24/7 support for people with alcohol and other drug concerns, their loved ones and health professionals. They offer telephone, face to face.
- Lives lived well: 1300727957; provides an alcohol and drug support from harm minimisation perspective around Queensland, they offer telephone, face to face and inpatient rehab (non-government).
- Family Drug Support (FDS) - for information, referral, counselling 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on the national free call number: 1300 368 186.
- Quihn (Queensland Injectors Health Network): 1800 172 076; health services for people who use drugs and alcohol throughout Queensland, offer counselling, rehabilitation linkage, needle exchange, support groups and detox programs.
- Drug ARM: 3620 8880; Drug ARM provides compassion and specialist care throughout Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia through a range of programs and services that include education, outreach, prevention and treatment.
- Counselling Online is available for alcohol and drug users - phone 1800 888 236.
Employee Assistance Professional Association of Australasia (Inc) (EAPAA)
EAPAA is the peak Australasian body representing provider and user members that supply Employee Assistance Programs in the workplace. EAPAA is not a service provider but does provide a list of EAP providers in Queensland.
For a list of some providers of this service in Queensland contact Landscape Queensland at www.landscapequeensland.com.au/healthier-happier-workplaces
Australasian Medical Review Officers Association (AMROA)
AMROA is the professional body representing Medical Review Officers in Australasia. The website has useful information about drug and alcohol testing and a “find an MRO function”. amroa.org.au
- WorkSafe Victoria Information for employers Guide for developing a workplace alcohol and other drugs policy - WorkSafe Victoria
- NCETA (2006); Responding to alcohol and drug issues in the workplace. National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA), Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia.
- Pidd, K. & Roche, A.M. (2011); Workplace drug testing: Evidence and issues. National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA), Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia.