Preventing alcohol abuse in workplace requires clear policy, education, testing

By Brennen Portalski, C-SAPA
Beacon Occupational Health and Safety Services Inc.

There is no question that we are in the midst of challenging times for employers when it comes to maintaining a drug-free workplace. With the legalization of recreational marijuana, the opioid and heroin epidemic, and with synthetic drugs on the rise, there is a lot to be considered when trying to maintain a safe, drug-free work environment.

Drugs aside, it is also important to consider another substance that has significantly affected safety in the workplace, a substance that causes absenteeism, accidents, injuries and death. This substance is legal throughout our state and the country, yet how do we prevent workplace accidents and injuries from occurring from its effects? This article will discuss alcohol and the workforce and explore the ways you can maintain an alcohol-free workplace.

Alcohol has been consumed around the world for centuries. Almost all of us have encountered a situation where alcohol has been involved, whether a small social gathering or a night out on the town. As a legal consumable for those 21 years or older, it is one of the easiest substances to access. And although it is legal, many employers have anti-alcohol policies to prevent alcohol use in the workplace. This is even a requirement for companies with employees who work in positions covered by the Department of Transportation.

While alcohol is prohibited in many workplaces, there still seems to be a significant number of alcohol-related workplace accidents and injuries. It may seem difficult for employers to maintain an alcohol-free workplace, but with a few key policies and procedures, any company can ensure the safety of its employees is not compromised by alcohol use.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that nearly 14 million Americans abuse alcohol or are alcoholics.1 Furthermore, it is estimated that annually nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes in the United States.2 The numbers are staggering and truly scary to those looking to maintain a safe workplace. Not only does alcohol in the workplace lead to accident and injury; it can lead to absenteeism, tardiness, missed job assignments, rising health care costs and much more.

It is clear that employers should be concerned about alcohol in the workplace; understanding the overall effects of alcohol is the first step to implementing and maintaining an alcohol-free workplace. The key components of keeping alcohol out of the workplace include a clearly written policy that outlines the company stance on alcohol use in the workplace, education on the effects of alcohol use in the workplace, identifying the signs and symptoms of alcohol in the workplace for employees and supervisors, consistently testing employees for alcohol as required by DOT and/or company policy, and having an Employee Assistance Program for all employees to use.

Whether you are an employer that has a DOT-mandated anti-alcohol plan or a company with a non-DOT alcohol testing policy, it is important to be informed and to educate employees on this issue. Alcohol use in the workplace can have serious consequences, up to and including accidents that cause serious injury and death. Be sure to provide the company policy to employees upfront (preferably at the time of onboarding) so that expectations are set from Day One. Alcohol in the workplace can undoubtedly be a serious problem, but with a clear policy, education, testing and an EAP, any company can reduce its risks.