Drugs and Alcohol: What Happens When They Cause Workplace Accidents?

Did you know that working individuals are more likely to have consumed alcohol or illicit drugs in the past 12 months than people who are not in the workforce? The use of Illicit drugs and alcohol within the community is nothing new, however when the use of such is brought into the workplace it becomes a big problem for employers and employees alike. Drugs and alcohol can impact workers and at times cause accidents and injuries.


The effects of both illicit drugs and alcohol used during and outside work hours can have a significant impact on workplace health and safety. In this article we take a look at the use of illicit drugs and alcohol in the workplace and your rights to make a claim for an injury, where illicit drugs and/or alcohol is involved.

Alcohol certainly does play a big role in the lives of many Australians. A study conducted by The National Drug Strategy Household Survey in 2013 of people aged 14 years and over revealed:

  • 4 out of 5 Australians had consumed alcohol in the past year, with 6.5% drinking on a daily basis;
  • Almost 1 in 5 Australians consumed more than 2 standard drinks per day on average;
  • More than 1 in 3 Australians had, on at least 1 occasion in the previous 12 months consumed alcohol at a level placing them at risk of injury and 1 in 4 has done so as often as monthly.
  • People aged 20-29 were most likely to have used an illicit drug in the previous 12 months;
  • The most common drug consumed was cannabis;
  • The number of people using, or have used, illicit drugs has risen since 2010.

The same Survey conducted in 2006 revealed:

  • 3.5% of the workforce had a day off work due to the consumption of alcohol;
  • 2.5% of workforce reported going to work under the influence of illicit drugs.

While any figures higher than 0% are too high when it comes to the workplace, certain occupations were found to have been at a higher risk for alcohol and illicit drug use. The occupations that showed high rates of substance use include:

  • Mining;
  • Construction;
  • Accommodation and food services;
  • Agriculture;
  • Forestry and fishing.

Substance intoxication and withdrawal can negatively a workers performance by impairing or altering their:

  • memory;
  • concentration
  • reaction times
  • dexterity; and
  • mood.

Any one of the above could cause or contribute to the risk of workplace injuries and accidents. The use of illicit drugs and/or alcohol in the workplace could easily result in an employee being a danger to themselves or other colleagues they work with. Anyone who comes to work under the influence of illicit drugs or alcohol puts themselves at risk, of not only having their employment terminated, but also risks injury to themselves or others.

Around 5% of all Australian workplace deaths, and 11% of workplace injuries, involve alcohol. If you are injured at work while you are under the influence of illicit drugs or alcohol you may lose your right to bring a claim for negligence against your employer, depending on the circumstances of how your injury occurred, or have you damages significantly reduced for being found to have contributed to your own injury. Employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees and have a duty to their employees to keep them safe at work. If they fail in this duty, and you injured by an employee who is under the influence of illicit drugs or alcohol then you can hold your employer liable for your injury depending on the circumstances of how the injury occurred.

While some places of employment implement workplace drug testing, a recent study on how well Australian workplaces are handling drug and alcohol use among workers found that policies are more effective in addressing alcohol and drug use among workers than just conducting mandatory testing alone. Good general management practices was also found to be the most effective method for achieving enhanced safety and productivity, and lower absenteeism and turnover rates.

Employers should therefore manage the work-related risks associated with alcohol and other drugs, just as they do with other occupational health and safety hazards. Some things that employers could do to identify and control the risk 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.
Everyone in the workplace has health and safety responsibilities to ensure their own safety and the safety of those around them. The best way to stay safe is simple; refrain from illicit drug use, and drink responsibility, but most importantly always remember that drugs and alcohol are best left out of the workplace!


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