Don’t drink and work
Employers face various human resources risks. Substance abuse is one of them. RHYS EVANS, director of ALCO-Safe, discusses the behavioural implications of alcohol use and abuse in the workplace.
Organisations are required by law to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), which specifies a zero-tolerance approach to intoxication in the workplace. Employees who are under the influence of alcohol are a danger to themselves and their co-workers, as alcohol lowers inhibitions, fuels aggression and affects judgement.
In hazardous environments such as mining, manufacturing and construction, where employees need to operate machinery that requires sound judgement, alcohol use is a serious area of concern. The ongoing behavioural impact of alcohol use in the workplace can have a negative knock-on effect to health and safety, increasing risks for organisations and their employees alike.
Alcohol affects judgement
Employees operating with impaired judgement, as a result of alcohol consumption, disregard policies put into place for their safety, and make poor decisions regarding their jobs. In the Activator, Behaviour, Consequence (ABC) model of behaviour, alcohol acts as an activator for undesirable behaviours.
Employees who are under the influence of alcohol may fail to accurately assess a situation, underestimate the danger involved, and, subsequently, act in a manner that puts them and their fellow workers at risk.
Creating negative feedback loops
Consequences of undesirable behaviour can also negatively impact that of the colleagues of the offender. If there are no negative consequences, the perpetrator may feel that they can continue with such behaviour. Colleagues may also notice this and emulate the undesirable behaviour, which further increases the risks to employees and the company.
If someone is injured, or even killed, the organisation is liable for damages. It also breaches the OHSA, which negatively impacts the morale of workers.
For example, an employee who is qualified to lift a certain load with a forklift may feel, under the influence, that they are able to exceed the load limit. It is well known that alcohol can create a feeling of bravado. This may cause them to injure themselves or damage equipment. If there is no consequence, it creates the impression that this type of behaviour is acceptable.
A vicious cycle is then created, with employees ignoring processes and regulations that have been put into place to ensure their safety. Neither of these situations results in a desirable outcome.
Damaging the bottom line
Loss of time and an overall loss of productivity, in the long run can affect a company’s profits and its production abilities, and, thus, has a corresponding effect on the bottom line. Addressing this challenge will help to ensure that businesses are operating effectively and with maximum productivity, which will ensure profitability is maximised.
A multi-faceted approach is needed
Alcohol consumption in the workplace remains a challenge for a number of reasons. Overcoming this challenge requires a combined approach of the right policies, education and equipment to curb alcohol use and abuse in the working environment.
Creating an alcohol abuse policy is a crucial first step. The policy must clearly define and outline an organisation’s zero-tolerance approach to alcohol consumption, as well as all of the procedures involved.
The policy must define the parameters to which the company and employees must adhere, in order to ensure compliance with OHSA standards. It must also outline the full process for testing for alcohol consumption, and must contain a complete explanation of disciplinary procedures, should employees test positive.
In addition, it is also essential to drive awareness of the policy, the consequences of breaching it, and the effects of alcohol on behaviour. Often, employees are unaware of the harmful consequences of alcohol on their health, their personal lives and the safety of those around them.
Education needs to form a vital foundation pillar of any approach to reducing risky behaviour, such as the consumption of intoxicating substances in the workplace.
Finally, policies and education should be backed by the use of appropriate technology for testing alcohol consumption. Without the ability to check employees, the policies will be ineffective in changing behaviours. The possibility of random testing, or specific tests should employees be suspected of being intoxicated, can be a significant deterrent.