Effects of Alcohol Abuse in the Workplace

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There is no question that we are in the midst of challenging times for employers when it comes to maintaining a drug-free workplace. With the legalization of marijuana, the opioid and heroin epidemic, and with synthetic drugs on the rise, there is a lot to be considered when trying to maintain a safe, drug-free work environment. Drugs aside, it is always important to consider another substance that has caused significant impacts on safety in the workplace; a substance that causes absenteeism, accidents, injuries, and death. This substance is legal throughout our state and the country, but how do we prevent workplace accidents and injuries from occurring from its effects? Today we will talk about alcohol in the workplace and explore the ways that you can maintain an alcohol-free workplace.

Alcohol is a substance that has been consumed around the world for centuries. Whether it be a small social gathering or a night out on the town, almost all of us have encountered a situation where alcohol has been involved. As a legal substance when consumed by those 21 years or older, it is one of the easiest substance to access at all times. Although legal, many employers have anti-alcohol policies in place to prevent alcohol use in the workplace and this is a requirement for companies that have employees that work in a DOT-covered position. While understanding that alcohol is prohibited in many workplaces, there still seems to be a significantly high volume of alcohol related workplace accidents and injuries. It may seem difficult for employers to maintain an alcohol-free workplace, but with a few key policies and procedures, any company can ensure the safety of their employees is not compromised due to alcohol use.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that nearly 14 million Americans abuse alcohol or are alcoholics1. Furthermore, it is estimated that annually, nearly 88,000 people die from alcohol related causes in the United States2. The numbers are staggering and truly scary to those looking to maintain a safe workplace. Not only does alcohol in the workplace lead to accident and injury. It should be noted that alcohol abuse in the workplace leads to absenteeism, tardiness, missed job assignments, rising health care costs, and much more.

It is very clear that employers should be concerned about alcohol in the workplace and understanding the overall impacts of alcohol is the first step to implementing and maintaining an alcohol-free workplace. The key components of keeping alcohol out of the workplace include: a clearly written policy that outlines the company stance on alcohol use in the workplace, education on the effects of alcohol use in the workplace, identifying the signs and symptoms of alcohol in the workplace for employees and supervisors, consistently testing employees for alcohol as required by DOT and/or company policy, and also having an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for all employees to utilize, if necessary.

Whether you are an employer that has a DOT mandated anti-alcohol plan or a company with a non-DOT alcohol testing policy, it is important to be educated and to educate employees on the issues. Alcohol use in the workplace can have serious consequences, up to and including accidents that cause serious injury and death. Be sure to provide the company policy to employees upfront (preferably at the time of onboarding), so that expectations are set from day one. Alcohol in the workplace can undoubtedly be a serious problem, but with a clear policy, education, testing and EAP access for assistance, any company can reduce the risks that are associated with alcohol use in the workplace.


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