Australia: Cabbage Salad and Safety: Episode 6 - Drugs and Alcohol and the Workplace (Part 1)

Cabbage Salad and Safety is a series of podcasts based around conversations with Siobhan Flores-Walsh, a work health and safety lawyer with Corrs Chambers Westgarth, and Kevin Jones, a workplace safety consultant and editor of the award-winning SafetyAtWorkBlog. Each episode will focus on one or two safety topics.

In Episode 6, Natasha Jager of the Australian Drug Foundation joins Siobhan and Kevin in conversation about the safety management issues related to alcohol and drugs. They discuss the legal, business and union perspectives on drug and alcohol testing, and also take a look at what could be the "sleeper issue" – the link between alcohol and drug use and workplace psychological/mental illness issues.

We welcome enquiries and comments about the Cabbage Salad and Safety podcast, so please send them to Siobhan or Kevin.

These podcasts do not provide legal or other advice. Obtain legal or other professional advice as required.

TEXT VERSION

Podcast – Cabbage Salad and Safety

Episode Six:

Corrs Partner Siobhan Flores-Walsh (Workplace Health & Safety Lawyer) and Kevin Jones (Safety Journalist)

KEVIN Good evening and welcome to the latest episode of the Cabbage Salad and Safety Podcast. I am Kevin Jones. We've got Siobhan Flores-Walsh on the phone on the other line. How are you Siobhan?

SIOBHAN Good day Kevin how are you?

KEVIN Well pretty good pretty good. Looking forward to talking about drugs and alcohol and workplace safety tonight. It is going to be sort of an intense evening conversation I think.

SIOBHAN Yes looking forward to it and we have Natasha Jager from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation with us to provide us with some expert information around this issue.

KEVIN Yes so welcome Tash.

NATASHA Thanks Kevin, thanks Siobhan.

KEVIN One of the things I thought we might do straight off is deal with the elephant in the room – which is not me – but is the issue of alcohol and drug testing because it is something that you just can't discuss this topic without bringing up this issue. So Siobhan I wanted to chuck it across to you for this one and just give us an idea of what the current status of drug and alcohol testing is as it relates to work, health and safety?

SIOBHAN Look I think we can basically say that workplaces fall into camps around this issue. There are those workplaces which have drug and alcohol testing as a matter of statutory regulation or perhaps by policy which is already been introduced. The second camp are those workplaces which don't have random drug and alcohol testing and they might be checking about whether or not they want to introduce it or whether they should introduce it.

It is important to understand I think it is quite complex from both a health and safety perspective and from the employment and industrial relations perspective and this evening we really don't want to go into that technicality.

I think what we do want to focus on is the fact that regardless of whether or not you do have drug and alcohol testing, that will only ever be a part of the solution for employers trying to deal with these issues. We want to focus on the other side of the equation. One of the other things which business can do to mitigate against the effects of drug and alcohol consumed at home or drug and alcohol consumed at work. So that's where think where our focus will be this evening.

KEVIN So Siobhan can you just give me a quick idea of what the hazards are that can appear in a workplace as a result of drug and alcohol use at work or at home.

SIOBHAN I think that the hazards are multiple and I suppose if I might frame it a little bit differently. When clients come to see us about this as an issue, it tends to fall into I suppose four key areas. They want to know about what's needed in high risk industries so industries like mining, construction, agriculture, rail where we're talking about lots of big capital equipment which can really cause damage. Then what they need to do in industries where the risk is less obvious.

And of course I am only focusing at the moment on physical risk but there is also risk within our workplaces where people are affected by drugs and alcohol from a psychological perspective. Then people want to talk to me about what do you do about alcohol at work sponsored functions. So are there risks created for workers and I think we can talk a bit about that.

Another issue where people are becoming increasingly interested is the fact that organisation feel like business development marketing functions are nearly always accompanied by alcohol and of course that creates a whole range of risks for workers. You can control workers reasonably easily though but it is much more complex when your clients are drinking alcohol. So there are lots of issues to consider there particularly given the expansion of WHS liability to people who are affected by what we are doing within our workplaces.

I guess the final point and there is a lot to get through if we can, clients are very concerned about the fact that the stresses and strains of work can in fact cause their workers to mitigate the effects of those stresses and strains through the use of alcohol and I guess the really obvious example of that are fly-in/fly-out with very heavy alcohol consumption associated with that form of work and then just plain old long hours of work intensification. So it is really quite a big circle and all of these issues are quite integrated.

KEVIN I think also that there are always two elements to the hazard at work. It is the hazard from these activities to the person whose undertaken them, but also the hazards that that person presents to others. So Tash from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation's point of view, you're in the workplace services element of the Foundation. Is what Siobhan's been saying echo the concerns?

NATASHA Absolutely. We are getting enquiries from a wide range of industries. As Siobhan pointed out, high risk industries but as well as those white collar typical office environments are realising that it shouldn't just be up to the high risk industries to be addressing alcohol and drugs. It can affect all workplaces across all industries.

KEVIN So what advice can the Alcohol and Drug Foundation – you're in workplace services so you have programs or information or pamphlets or apps or whatever you've got specifically for workplace management of these issues?

NATASHA that's correct Kevin. We focus on the prevention side of alcohol and drug misuse. We don't tell people they should stop drinking or stop taking drugs because we know they're just going to do it. It is about implementing measures from an employer's perspective to prevent and reduce that harm.

Things like educating your employees on how long it takes for alcohol to leave the system, so they pass that breath test in the morning if they do testing. It is implementing education measures as well as having comprehensive policies to let employees know what support is available should they need that.

KEVIN Siobhan, in companies that do have these policies and do have these practices, are they adhered to? Is this area sort of fairly compliant in terms of people following company policies on this?

SIOBHAN I don't think so. I think that once again you've got the environments where there is mandatory drug and alcohol testing and you've got the environments where there isn't. So in those mandatory environments there are still people that are turning up to work and taking the risk, and we do have episodes where even in high risks industries, incidents occur it can be directly related to drug and alcohol use. In those other environments, of course it is going to be much more difficult to get caught.

I think what is truly is interesting about the approach that Natasha has just outlined is that it is quite different I think to the focus which workplaces have at the moment. Workplaces for the most part are still very focused on putting in place policies and rules that control and say you shall not do X, Y & Z and what I am understanding Natasha to say it is really taking or treating employees I guess in a more adult way of saying look these are the rules at work but by the way, this is what's happening to your body, put the two together and we will make it work.

Because you know my observation is that the control approach is just not going to work alone so that's why I am quite attracted to the approach of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.

NATASHA Absolutely. But it also addresses the morale issue of being told what to do or what not to do and it is involving the employees in helping with a solution and helping identify and reducing that risk at work. So absolutely.

SIOBHAN I think it is interesting it ties very much in and I don't know if it is sort of jumping subjects here but Natasha you and I worked together a little bit in relation to a function recently so this is really on that area of where our call is being used as part of this development and marketing. The focus of the particular organisation we were looking at was they knew there was risks associated with the provision of alcohol in this context and their focus was well what do we do to deal with the inevitable issues of over consumption.

Given the numbers and everything else involved controlling after the event clearly not going to work. So perhaps you would like to talk about the approach I guess that you took which was much more about controlling it at the source.

NATASHA Absolutely thanks Siobhan. The Alcohol and Drug Foundation have a program called "Good Hosts" which is a program that works in the organising and the developing stages of an event whereby we implement a number of measures in fact there is 87 in total as they work as behind the scene measures to reduce intoxication at the event.

So the guests and patrons attending the event won't notice anything different but these are little things that organisations can be doing prior to the event actually occurring to reduce the likelihood of people getting drunk and becoming intoxicated.

KEVIN But Tash when we go organise these functions at the function room at the pub or whatever else, I mean the facilities that we've booked already have responsible serving of alcohol or they've got security guards sometimes to deal with drunks, why does the employer need to take on any responsibility, we've booked it out, the function room is looking after the alcohol consumption.

NATASHA Yes that's a very good point Kevin. We find that events, when you book them, they believe a good event means an unlimited supply of alcohol and plying everyone with as much alcohol as possible.

KEVIN You bet, I mean we put the card on the bar and it just goes until it we run out of the limit. That's always how it's been.

NATASHA Yes absolutely. But it is coming to a point where we do need to take more responsibility as an employer on what they are actually providing and what message are they sending to their employees. But also employees need to take on some of that responsibility. But by implementing measures as part of the good host program, we can I guess assist the guests in making the right decision.

Some of these measures include providing food as soon as the event starts and the alcohol is free, there should be food available so people are eating while they are drinking. It is going to reduce how fast they become drunk. Provide alternative measures to alcohol, don't just make it water and orange juice as available, provide mocktails where no alcohol is going to be included but it is interesting and people go I might try that just to see what it tastes like, they're reducing the amount of alcohol they consume. Not allowing people to self-serve.

Don't have bottles of alcohol on the table where they can top up their drink because by golly I bet you they're going to pour it all the way to the very very top. We need to be managing these things to help them still serve alcohol, but just help them to make the right decisions.

KEVIN Just on that, I went to a big ethnic wedding a couple of years ago and it was the first wedding I've been to where at the reception there was three bottles of spirits on the table that were just seem to be a symbol of hospitality and welcoming you know have a good time and all that sort of stuff. And some of the people that I was with, took advantage of the hospitality and it was atrocious.

But it was those symbols, those signs where you want to sort of you're welcome have a good time we encourage it. It doesn't have to be four bottles of whatever, it is something more than that and that's what the Foundation is talking about.

NATASHA Absolutely. It is important to make alcohol not the sole focus or the entertainment of the event. Providing other measures to entertain your guests other than just free alcohol and unlimited amounts of alcohol, it is shifting their attention away from just sitting around and drinking. Provide games, provide other forms of stimulation.

KEVIN Can I ask Siobhan something specific on this. Quite often work functions go on, they sort of have a close off time an end time - the lights come on and everybody goes off and then there's people who carry on afterwards and keep drinking. When they move on out of a work function, are they still at a work function or has the status changed?

SIOBHAN That's a really tricky question and the case law is really quite ambiguous about it and I think there is a couple of matters I can refer you to. But long story short, we recommend to clients that they actually give specific instructions about those kick on events and that they actually deal with those kick on events in their planning. That is they advise the staff and if it is a client function, that they remind people that after the event it is important that they are taking care of each other. That they have identified people to ensure it's not just about driving but ensuring people getting into cabs because it is not terribly hard to make the stretch that if someone gets inebriated at a work sponsored event and then kicks on to another event and is Natasha ured after that event that could be dangerous. It will not always be the case because it is going be a little fact dependent but there is no doubt the risk is there. And I think that the risk is increasing rather than decreasing. It needs to be taken into account.

KEVIN I remember going to a Christmas party where the first time I was given a taxi voucher by the company to go home safely and we took three or four people home safely. They had never had that before and I felt really valued because people weren't just wanting to have me at the Christmas party but they wanted me to get home safely. So it was a really good move. I know not everybody can afford that. But they are really thinking about the end results of the function as well.

SIOBHAN I think that if organisations can't afford that then they can't afford to have people access alcohol. But I guess the other side of it that I guess I more and more attracted to the sort of program that Natasha has been outlining. I think that the taxi's after the event is a very sensible thing to do but really we should be far more focusing on this issue around making those alternate drinks available, distracting people from alcohol.

Because there is no doubt that people do turn to alcohol just because they are a little bit bored and I suppose in some sense is that kind of also brings us back to some of the issues in the workplace proper. We have seen for example scenarios where people are in violence where they don't have family around so might have the weekends to do something in a country town where not much is available so they turn to alcohol. I would be quite interested to sort of know what does the Alcohol and Drug Foundation have to say around things like – the contribution of long hours and increased use of drugs and alcohol even if it outside the workplace you have got the scenario with the nature of the work contributing to effectively drug taking which is going to have health issues of itself or even if it doesn't it can come back into the workplace.

NATASHA Absolutely Siobhan you are spot on. Workplace causes a lot of I guess stress for a number of workers out there, depending on the type of work that they are doing. I guess we need to remember that people don't use a lot of drugs to make themselves feel bad. They are doing it to feel good. They are sometimes self-medicating with a drink or to get over a stressful day or to try and forget about some things. Or they might be illegal or legal drugs. We need to remember that there is an issue that they are trying to get away from, let that be personal or work issue.

There are some things that we have identified with working with a number of our clients. Shift work is a significant cause of people misusing. Their mates are working during the day and so what else do they have to do when all of their friends are working, go to the pub and have a drink. We know that the deadline pressures in the corporate environment and the stress as I said before that people we are finding are using amphetamines to stay awake so they can meet those deadlines. But then they are on such a high at the end that they need to then use alcohol or smoke a joint or use cannabis to help them relax and get themselves to sleep. But we need to look at the work life balance of the industries that we are dealing with and understanding we need to be helping employees have that work life balance that will not only increase productivity but also morale in the workplace. Which is only going to be a good thing for our employees.

SIOBHAN How realistic do find that though when you, what is the appetite for organisations, they are coming to you with a particular issue. Perhaps there are very high levels of alcohol or whatever the issue is and you in a sense going back to them with an answer which is quite difficult to implement. So I suppose it is almost one mirroring the other drugs and alcohol are often a short term response to stress and I guess there is quick fixes being sought to the alcohol problem as well. How often does it actually get taken up?

NATASHA It is really interesting because the industries and the companies we work with really differ. You have some really large international companies that are clients and they really just want to tick the box and then you have got a small father and son company with only ten employees and they are wanting to take a full comprehensive approach. It really comes down to management.

I am talking the person in charge, the CEO, but also down to those middle managers because if middle management aren't reinforcing the behaviours of the organisation and the values of the organisation then nothing is going to change. As much as the CEO can say, don't let anyone work beyond 7:00 pm, it's up to middle management to be enforcing that.

This podcast does not give legal or other professional advice and its contents should not be relied upon as such. Formal legal and other professional advice should be sought in particular matters.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Chambers Asia Pacific Awards 2016 Winner – Australia
Client Service Award
Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (WGEA)

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

    Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of www.mondaq.com

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

    Disclaimer

    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

    Registration

    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

    Cookies

    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

    Links

    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

    Mail-A-Friend

    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

    Emails

    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .

    Security

    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

    By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions