Healthy Workplaces overview

Workplaces are important settings for reducing alcohol and drug-related harms.

The Healthy Workplaces toolkit outlines different strategies workplaces can adopt to prevent and minimise alcohol and drug-related harms in the workplace.

Workplaces are important settings for reducing alcohol and drug-related harms. Approximately two-thirds of working-age Australians are in paid work, with many spending up to a third of every day at work.[1] The workplace is ideally situated to change attitudes and behaviours in regards to alcohol and other drug (AOD) use, considering the large population of working Australians and the length of time that people spend at work.

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Which target audience should the Healthy Workplaces activity focus on?

Healthy Workplaces will benefit individual workers, employers, families and the whole community.

Alcohol and drug consumption patterns vary across industries and occupational groups. Local Drug Action Teams (LDATs) should prioritise high risk industries and occupations, as well as workplaces where alcohol is readily available. Population groups that are most likely to engage in risky drinking are:

  • Male workers
  • Young workers aged 14–29 years
  • Tradespersons and those employed in lower skilled and manual occupations
  • Individuals employed in hospitality, mining, agriculture, retail, manufacturing, construction and financial services industries.[2]

Greater availability of, or access to, alcohol in the community and at work is associated with increased high-risk alcohol use. Greater access to alcohol may occur through increased availability in the community (e.g. pubs and licenced venues, particularly in areas that have a high density of alcohol outlets); direct exposure (e.g. working in the hospitality industry); price subsidy (e.g. by allowing access through expense accounts or providing subsidised or free alcohol as part of working conditions); and, poor structural and cultural controls (e.g. heavy alcohol use in the workplace allowed, work cultures revolve around drinking as team building, solidarity or celebration).[3]

Contrary to popular opinion, there are greater costs to employers through moderate drinkers occasionally drinking to excess or infrequently using illicit drugs, than alcohol or drug dependent workers.[4] For this reason, it is useful for LDATs to use a range of strategies to prevent alcohol and drug related issues in the workplace, including broad approaches that address the range of risks across the whole workforce, and targeted approaches that focus on high risk occupations.

How does Healthy Workplaces help to prevent alcohol and drug-related issues?

In Australia, alcohol use is a daily part of many people’s lives; 90% of the Australian workforce consume alcohol.[5] Although the use of illicit drugs is not as common, with only a small proportion of people regularly using these substances, the number of people that have used these drugs at least once is reported to be increasing.[6]

The effects of both alcohol and illicit drug use during and outside of work hours can have a significant negative impact on workplace health, safety and productivity.

Healthy Workplaces helps to prevent alcohol and drug-related issues by changing factors that influence the patterns of alcohol and drug use in the workplace: the attitudes and behaviour of individual workers, the work environment and workplace culture.

Taking action to create healthy workplaces improves:

  • The health, safety and wellbeing of individual workers
  • Productivity
  • The safety and wellbeing of the workplace in general.

How effective is the Healthy Workplace activity?

Activity to create healthy workplaces and prevent alcohol and drug-related harms is effective provided it is based on principles of ‘effective practice’. These principles include:

  • Accounting for the complexity of the issue
  • Evidence-informed strategies
  • Multi-faceted with strategies that address individual staff and organisational factors
  • Prioritising high risk occupations and workplaces
  • Developing clear goals through consultation
  • Engaging all staff including leadership
  • Assessing the risk
  • Tailoring the intervention to the individual
  • workplace and culture

Incorporating a ‘whole of workplace’ approach that addresses the broad range of risks across the whole workforce; effective strategies are not about identifying a few severely dependent individuals. A ‘whole of workplace’ approach involves taking action across four key areas: culture, physical working environment, personal health resources, and community connections.[7]

The workplace directly influences the physical, mental, economic and social wellbeing of employees, and in turn the health of their families and communities. Significant health, social and economic gains can be achieved by preventing and reducing alcohol and drug-related harms in the workplace.

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What are the workplace health and safety responsibilities that influence this activity?

All employers and employees have health and safety responsibilities and obligations in relation to the workplace which need to be considered as part of planning this activity.

Employers have a legal obligation to respond to alcohol and other drug use and related harms in the workplace through ‘duty of care’ provisions under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act 2011.8

Employees have an obligation to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and not endanger that of others in the workplace.

Across Australia, there are a number of acts or regulations that govern the use of alcohol and drugs in the workplace. Most jurisdictions have alcohol and drug use standards, codes or guidelines. Some of these documents pertain to specific industries or occupations.[9]

Relevant industry and workplace legislation relating to alcohol and drugs, as well as specific workplace policies and procedures, where they exist, also applies.

In some jobs, such as road and rail transport, maritime and mining occupations, the law sets down a legal blood alcohol level and may prohibit a worker from using any drugs—legal or illegal.[10] Some alcohol and other drug legislation is national, while other legislation is specific to an individual state and/or territory, with some variation across jurisdictions.

Some companies have explicit policies to test their workers for alcohol and illicit substances. This is particularly important if a worker could kill or seriously injure themselves, another worker or a member of the public.[11] This may include pre-employment testing, random testing of employees and testing after occupational incidents.

The onus is on workplaces to be aware of and consider specific legislation for their industry in relation to alcohol and other drug use when