Substance misuse at work is on the rise – what can employers do?

9th August 2022 Posted in Blogs

The pandemic has increased the number of employees misusing drugs and alcohol. According to newly released statistics from AlphaBioLab, since 2019, there has been a 54% leap in positive drug results in the workplace meanwhile, as many as 27% of people surveyed in 2021 by CIPD said they had increased their alcohol consumption due to the pandemic.

Of course, drug and alcohol misuse are sadly not a new thing but they are diseases which are supported by isolation and that is exactly what was created for millions of people during the global pandemic. Working from home and restricted movement meant people with dependencies were left to their own devices whilst the social, financial and mental impact of the lockdowns has caused more people to turn to illicit substances to cope. 

The Legal Bit

Under the Health and Safety At Work Act, 1974 employees have a duty of care to the health, safety and welfare of their employees as well as other people who might be affected by their business. This means making sure employees and others are protected from anything that may cause harm and that would include not endangering themselves or others whilst under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

The Knowledge Gap

Despite the legal requirement, CIPD found that a fifth of businesses do not offer proactive support to employees who are struggling with drug and alcohol issues whilst only 27% of organisations provide information for employees on how to disclose a problem they may have with alcohol or drugs. Similar results were found by AlphaBiolabs survey with 20% of respondents admitting their business had no such policy for reporting in place and 10% reported no policy exists at all. One in five senior managers said they were not confident they’d be able to spot the signs of someone struggling with misuse.

What can employers do?

Recognising the signs of drug and alcohol misuse will help an employer to manage health and safety risks and if required to put in place policies, but what should employers be looking for:

Signs of misuse can include:

  • unexplained or frequent absences
  • a change in behaviour
  • unexplained dips in productivity
  • more accidents or near-misses
  • performance or conduct issues

It’s also important to recognise that these can also be signs of ill health or stress but where these behaviours are identified they should be investigated further.

Consult and Communicate

Employers should also consult employees (or their representatives) on all health and safety matters and whilst drug and alcohol misuse can be a sensitive topic it is still important to address your employees understanding of the effects of it on health and safety and assess their understanding of the rules which apply to your business. If you are newly creating policies then this is a great time to consult with your employees to help shape what those policies look like.

Consider and address the risks

Think about the types of work that  your business carries out and where there is a real risk that drug or alcohol misuse could have a serious outcome, these can include

  • Using machinery
  • Using electrical equipment
  • Driving or operating heavy equipment
  • Using machinery
  • Using electrical equipment
  • Driving or operating heavy equipment

Put Policies in place 

All organisations will benefit from an agreed policy in this area, and with alcohol and drug misuse costing society almost £20bn a year it’s worth the investment. This can be included as part of your overall health and safety policy or separately but should aim to communicate the rules and risks to your employee whilst also advising them on how to access help and support for any problems they may have.

Need support putting policies in place? We can help! Get in touch for a free consultation. 



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