One of the often silent threats in the workplace, particularly the construction worksite, which often goes unaddressed, is alcohol.
The prevalence of alcohol is more common in some industries than in others and labourers and tradespeople are some of the groups that often succumb to alcohol in the workplace or drinking at levels that affect their work, according to WorkSafe Victoria statistics (http://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/9864/alcohol_workplace.pdf).
Even though alcohol is a wonderful social lubricant and relaxer, in the workplace it can present a risk especially when consumed in excess, particularly in workplaces as risky as construction sites.
Construction work presents many unique hazards which require attention and great care to avoid injury, however when workers are intoxicated they become more relaxed, inattentive and carefree – all qualities that can result in serious accidents on a building site. Alcohol also affects our cognitive functioning and inhibits our memory, sometimes making remembering our training difficult, thereby placing us and those around us in danger.
High levels of drinking in particular are of grave concern because they can affect workers health, which in turn affects their ability to do their jobs and also affects their family life and relationships.
According to statistics provided by the Queensland Work Safety Authority around five per cent of all Australian workplace deaths and 11 per cent of workplace injuries involve alcohol, an alarmingly large number, obviously something needs to be done.
The following excerpt from www. deir.qld.gov.au explains,
Every drink above two standard drinks a day for men and women increases the lifetime risk of disease and injury. Risk of long term harm equates to having 5-6 drinks per day or 29-42 per week for men, 3-4 per day or 15-28 per week for women4.
Workplace factors can contribute to an employee’s alcohol consumption. These include:
- long and/or irregular hours
- low job satisfaction
- hazardous or dangerous work
- availability of alcohol and workplace drinking culture.
It is advised that employers address the issue of alcohol as it relates to the workplace in order to positively influence workers attitudes and levels of alcohol consumption.
Employers need to manage alcohol in the same way they would any other occupational health and safety hazards, in other words the hazards associated with alcohol consumption should be identified beforehand and the risk associated with them assessed. Thereafter the risk should be controlled using strategies developed to do so in the specific work environment. Developing this strategy may seem daunting but it needn’t be a complicated process, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland gives the following suggestions regarding developing a strategy:
Strategies can include:
- developing and implementing an alcohol policy with input from workers
- providing resources to employees about the harmful effects of alcohol
- encouraging workers to complete the Australian Drug Foundation ADF Aware online education program
- encouraging workers with a drinking problem to access counselling and treatment services
- creating a responsible drinking culture in the workplace.