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Drugs & alcohol – A dangerous mix for workplace safety


Recent studies have shown that despite the obvious risks to health and safety in the workplace, an alarming number of people continue to report for work while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

While this poses safety risks for any workplace, the potential for serious injury while working under the influence within the mining industry is significant—due it its high risk nature— and highlights the need for employers to implement safe-work practices that minimise this risk.

BOTTLE-FEATUREDWorrying trends
Determining the exact number of injuries caused by drug and alcohol impairment can be difficult—however the Australian Drug Foundation report published last year claims that they may have played a role in up to 5% of workplace deaths and 11% of non-fatal injuries nationwide.

In addition to contributing to workplace injuries, the report suggests drugs and alcohol cost Australian businesses up to $5.2 billion a year in lost productivity and absenteeism.

These findings are not altogether surprising when combined with the results of a national drug survey which highlighted that more than one in twenty workers said they had gone to work while under the influence of alcohol. Of those workers who confessed to using illicit drugs, more than one in ten said they had reported for work while under the influence of them.

WorkCover Queensland Customer Services Manager, Mining, Jane Stevens said that workers who were working while under the influence of drugs and alcohol were not only risking their own safety, but also the safety of their colleagues.

“Working while under the influence of alcohol and drugs compromises workplace safety and, as the research shows, results in the increased occurrence of injuries—either to themselves or others,” she said.

“This leads to an increase in workers’ compensation claims and has a direct impact on an employer’s premium costs.”

“To help protect their workers from injuries caused by these behaviours and to keep premium costs down, it’s important that employers implement and enforce effective drug and alcohol management programs as part of their safe work practices,” Jane said.

How drugs & alcohol can affect a claim for workers’ compensation
Under the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003, compensation may not be payable for an injury sustained by a worker if it is caused by the worker’s serious and wilful misconduct, and results in a degree of permanent impairment (DPI) of less than 50%.

With many workplaces requiring compulsory drug and alcohol testing and implementing a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drugs and alcohol, a worker could be found to have committed serious and wilful misconduct by reporting for work while under the influence.

“While each claim is determined on a case by case basis, if a worker has engaged in serious and wilful misconduct and sustains a workplace injury that results in a DPI of less than 50%, they may not be able to claim for workers’ compensation and so would have to personally incur the costs of their injury and rehabilitation,” Jane said.

“It’s important that workers realise that in addition to risking their own safety, as well as the safety of everyone around them, they are also putting themselves at financial risk if they enter the workplace while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.”

How employers can help keep their workplace safe
Australian Drug Foundation Head of Workplace Services, Phillip Collins said businesses should use an approach tailored for their workplace when implementing alcohol and drug programs.

“Workplaces need to develop and implement a sound formal written alcohol and drug policy which fits the organisation’s needs and addresses workplace specific risks,” Phillip said.

“Education and training about drugs and alcohol is necessary to ensure employees understand their organisation’s policy and have enough information about alcohol and drugs in the workplace, including the risks of harm.”

“Ongoing evaluation of alcohol and other drug programs is essential to long term effectiveness.”

Mr Collins said businesses need to regularly review and improve their processes to make sure they reflect changes in the workforce and incorporate improvements that can be made.

“It’s important that workers realise that in addition to risking their own safety… they are also putting themselves at financial risk if they enter the workplace while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.”

More information
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland have developed a paper outlining a framework for developing a policy on reducing work-related risks associated with drug and alcohol use, which is available on worksafe.qld.gov.au.

For more information on injury prevention or injury management, visit workcoverqld.com.au or call WorkCover on 1300 362 128.

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