Are you considering alcohol testing, because alcohol abuse is becoming a problem in your workplace? If it is, then you are in the company of countless employers the world over who have to deal with the issues that alcohol at work brings with it.
Alcohol costs Australian businesses an estimated $3.5 billion annually in lost productivity and puts the health and safety of everyone at work at risk as well. So it’s only right for any CEO, HR or safety officer to be concerned about an alcohol problem in the workplace. Fortunately there are very effective solutions to dealing with alcohol at work.
What is Alcohol?
Alcohol is a liquid depressant substance produced through the process of fermentation. The psychological and physiological dependence on alcohol is known as alcoholism and often result in chronic diseases and disruption of interpersonal and social relationships. When a person is under the influence of alcohol, their brain, central nervous system, liver, and heart are affected.
In Australia, alcohol is more than just a recreational drink. It is the most commonly consumed psychoactive, or mood-altering, drug that people enjoy, especially during parties and social events. In 2007, 41.3% of drinkers consumed alcohol on a weekly basis. It has been reported that the consumption of alcohol is the top contributing factor of deaths in Australia.
Taking a closer look at alcohol
The actual alcohol substance is colourless and tasteless. However, when combined with other ingredients, it produces varied colour and taste, making up the long list of alcoholic beverages in the world. Examples of alcoholic drinks are wine, beer, rum, vodka, and spirits among others.
As a drink, alcoholic beverages are consumed through the mouth, where the alcohol is directly absorbed into the bloodstream when it reaches the stomach and small intestine. Then it gets evenly distributed throughout the body.
What alcohol does to the body
Drinking alcohol, whether large amounts on seldom occasions or small dosages on frequent instances, can seriously take a toll on your body and health. In fact, it affects different parts of the body, including the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and the digestive system, as follows.
- Alcohol obstructs the brain functions, particularly the communication pathways and areas of perception and behavior.
- Drinking too much and over a long period of time can damage the heart and cause conditions such as high blood pressure, arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy, and stroke.
- In addition, it also can also severely affect the liver, causing problems and inflammations, such as fibrosis, cirrhosis, and alcoholic hepatitis.
- Alcohol can damage the pancreas and bring about pancreatitis, the harmful swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that restricts digestion of food.
- Finally, alcohol can bring about cancer in some parts of the digestive system, including the mouth, esophagus, throat, and liver.
The Impact of Alcohol at Work
Considering the effects of alcohol on the body that we have enumerated above, there is no doubt that the impact of alcohol at work is very significant. For one, a worker who has an alcohol problem will most likely commit tardiness and absenteeism on a constant basis. Poor decision-making and loss of efficiency will also affect their job performance, leading to lower productivity.
Workplace alcohol abuse also pose several safety risks. Intoxicated employees often have a harder time driving vehicles or operating machinery safely. This leaves them more vulnerable to workplace accidents and injuries. What’s worse is that they can also endanger other people around them.
In addition to potential alcohol-related injuries and deaths in the workplace, employers will also have to pay Workman’s Compensation claims that arise from such incidents. In many cases, workers involved in such incidents also file a case in court, which means the cost to employers will considerably skyrocket with the litigation fees alone.
What to Do About Alcohol at Work
The best way to address alcohol at workplace concerns is to develop and establish a clear and well thought-out drug and alcohol policy for the workplace. Such a policy needs to include stipulations for a drug & alcohol testing program. Employers can use these stipulations to find out if one of their workers is impaired by alcohol while at work.
Companies typically use alcohol testing on employees who have been involved in an accident at work. However, employers can also ask their workers to have a test based on reasonable suspicion of alcohol use.
At present, drug testing companies use three methods for detecting alcohol abuse:
- Breathalyser testing – a popular testing method by police to check drivers for intoxication. Employers use breathalyser tests to identify alcohol abuse at work. It delivers practically instant results. A handheld breathalyser can detect a person’s overall blood alcohol and intoxication level.
- Urine testing – capable of detecting alcohol in the urine for up to two days after its consumption.
- Saliva testing – the most convenient and least invasive method for alcohol testing. Companies commonly use saliva tests to detect drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace. These tests are often quick and accurate.
Tips to Detect Alcohol Abuse at the Workplace
Detecting alcohol abuse in the workplace is never easy, despite signs that many would call “obvious” ones. That’s because most of these “obvious” signs can also be indicators of problems or issues other than alcohol abuse.
You have to remember though that none of the following signs is evidence of alcohol abuse by itself. But a worker who shows two or more of these symptoms end up having an alcohol problem. A workplace drug and alcohol test can help identify the abuse.
- Unkempt appearance
- Smell of alcohol on breath and skin
- Irrational behaviour
- Bloodshot eyes
- Sleeping on duty
- Staggering or unsteady gait
- Temper outbursts
- Aggressive behaviour
Developing a Comprehensive Alcohol Safe Workplace Program
The best way to protect against alcohol abuse is to have a solid plan for a drug and alcohol policy. You can complement your A & OD program with drug education and awareness and drug and alcohol testing.
SafeWork Laboratories can help you develop an effective workplace drug and alcohol policy. We can also help educate your workers about the consequences of substance abuse at work both for their health and their employment.
For more information on our drug and alcohol testing services, contact SW Labs today.
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