It is estimated that there are 167,000 working years lost to alcohol each year, at a cost of around £1.2bn to UK employers. With an estimated 3-5% of all absences being alcohol-related, we explore the impact of alcohol consumption to the workplace taking in absence, productivity, mental health and safety risks.
The legal aspect
All employers have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees. If they knowingly allow an employee under the influence of excess alcohol to continue working and this places the employee or others at risk, they could be prosecuted. Similarly, all employees are also required to take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by what they do. In the transport industry, there is additional legislation in place to control the misuse of alcohol and drugs.
The Transport and Works Act 1992 makes it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through drink and/or drugs while working on railways, tramways and other guided transport systems, and the operators of the transport system would also be guilty of an offence unless they had shown all due diligence in trying to prevent such an offence being committed.
Alcohol and workplace safety
Beyond its impact on mental health, alcohol consumption poses significant risks to safety in the workplace. Impaired judgement, reduced coordination, and slowed reaction times are just a few of the immediate dangers alcohol can introduce to the workplace. Institute of Alcohol Studies estimates that 40% of workplace accidents are alcohol related but we’re not necessarily talking about drinking on duty: blood alcohol levels the morning after can seriously impair performance.
A report by Aviva found that a third of employees admitted to having been to work with a hangover, 15% reported having been drunk at work , 1 in 10 reported hangovers at work once a month; 1 in 20 once a week. The survey asked participants to report the impact of these hangovers on their work:
- 36% of employees find it hard to concentrate
- 35% of employees find they are less productive
- 42% feel tired to the point of being very sleepy
- A quarter do the minimum amount of work and go home as soon as possible
- Nearly one in 10 makes lots of mistakes which they need to rectify
Communication and training as always is key. How will current staff and any recruited in the future know the company’s rules about drinking? Does anyone need more information or training? Supervisors and other managers need to be clear about company rules and what to do if they suspect employees’ drinking is affecting their work. They also need to be aware of the implications of not tackling possible alcohol misuse, especially where safety is an issue. Many organisations implement a policy that describes their position on employees’ drinking. A written alcohol policy has many advantages, for example leaving less room for misunderstanding than an informal ‘understanding’.
An employee assistance programme to ensure that access and support with mental and physical health issues, is always beneficial.
For further information on the impact of alcohol consumption to the workplace, please contact us here.