Managing alcohol and drugs in the workplace

A range of factors, both at the workplace, and in people’s personal lives, impact on the ability to work safely. The use of alcohol and/or other drugs may be one of them.

Alcohol and other drugs usage becomes an occupational safety and health issue if a worker’s ability to exercise judgment, coordination, motor control, concentration and alertness at the workplace is impaired, leading to increased risk of injury or incidents to themselves or others.

Co-workers may be placed in difficult situations, expected to cover unsafe work practices, or be faced with reporting a fellow worker.

Workplace safety regulations set out that workers must take reasonable care of their own safety and health and not endanger the safety and health of others at the workplace. The consumption of alcohol and illicit drugs while at work is therefore unacceptable.

Workers should present themselves for work and remain, while at work, capable of performing their work duties safely.

Fishing vessels are ‘workplaces’ covered by the WA OSH Act, and although there is no specific reference to alcohol and other drugs in the OSH Act or supporting regulations, all parties at the workplace must comply with their ‘general duty of care’ in relation to usage of alcohol and other drugs and their potential acute and chronic effects in relation to safety and health at the workplace.

For employers (vessel owners and masters), alcohol and other drugs can cause a range of problems. In some cases, their use may lead to loss of life, injury and damage to plant or equipment.

Employers have a ‘general duty of care’ obligation to ensure that, as far as practicable, workers are not exposed to hazards and risks that could arise from workers being impaired by alcohol and/or other drugs and, where they may arise, address them through a systematic risk management process.

If a person appears affected or impaired by alcohol or drugs, the employer has an obligation to make sure the person, or anyone else at the workplace, is not put at risk.

If a vessel policy exists for this situation in an SMS, it should be followed.  In the absence of a policy, the employer should determine the most appropriate course of action, which may include making arrangements for the person to stop work if at sea, and/or to get home safely.

It should not be assumed that any observed impairment is caused by alcohol and/or other drug use. Other impairment factors may include fatigue, medical conditions, chemicals, heat, noise and symptoms of work-related stress.

Worksafe WA has prepared a guidance note as a starting point to address relevant issues where usage of alcohol and/or other drugs may have occupational safety and health considerations at the workplace.

You can download it here.