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Alcohol and Drug use - its Impact on the Workplace

Updated: Sep 22, 2019

Alcoholism in the workplace has long been a major safety concern. Psychotropic drugs and medications are now important factors that threaten the safety of workers. Excessive drug users in the workplace are no longer a marginal phenomenon because addictions have become an increasingly important occupational safety problem.

In the US there are studies that show that 60 to 70% of drug users are employed. Smoking is the main cause of illness and death in Brazil. In the United Kingdom 3 to 5% of absences from work are due to alcohol consumption; this represents about 14 million lost days per year. Physical, mental and social health problems appear and have a very negative impact on work. Problems of concentration, loss of balance, mental confusion, distraction, but also a change of behaviour, such as aggressiveness or apathy, irresponsible gestures and unpredictable reactions. The fact is that the use of these substances can lead to accidents at work. Dependencies become a routine to cope with work, especially to manage stress and endure many hours. Consequently, it also affects the family environment. In companies, the treatment of this problem in a group is starting to become a reality, as it can reach 70% in some cases. However, there is still much reluctance on the part of many companies to recognise and deal with this problem, as it is also a public health and occupational problem. It is not easy to convince company leaders to implement programmes of this kind. There are no funds to justify that these actions are an investment and not a cost.

Despite knowledge of its negative consequences, individual knowledge of the risk is not sufficient to modify addictive driving behaviour. It is the work collective (hierarchy, occupational medicine, representative bodies, occupational physicians), who should be aware of this issue, in order to minimize the risks of this phenomenon.

The aim is not to confront the workers. It is more about making them understand the consequences of drug and alcohol use in their personal lives and those of their clients, co-workers and the community at large. Authorities can interfere within the limits of the law.

The use of drugs (cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines and others) is prohibited by law in some countries with a few exceptions, such as Route Code with strong penalties for users. In the Labour Code, therefore, there is no specific article dealing with their use.

“All these experts, who have an effect on the monitoring or assessment of risks, are not opposed to the fact that the head of the company inserts articles in the internal regulation concerning the introduction or consumption of these substances. The introduction and consumption of drugs in the workplace may therefore justify a dismissal for serious offences, for workers using dangerous machinery, processes or chemical products or driving vehicles, and who have been subject to pre-announced warnings in this area”.

The fact is that in most cases the employee is afraid to ask for help and hides his addition from his superiors, for fear of losing his job and showing weakness.

In my humble opinion, as long as this public health problem is not recognised by policy makers and companies are encouraged to cooperate in prevention and training, it will be difficult to move forward with programmes of this kind, which is a pity, because it is becoming an occupational cancer which, in the medium to long term, will become chaotic in many situations, given the easy access to these substances.


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