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

The use of Illicit drugs and alcohol within the community is nothing new, however excessive alcohol and drug use are a big problem for employers and employees alike. Research suggests that an estimated 2.5 million days are lost annually due to drinking and drugs, at a cost of more than $680 million.

Productivity aside, 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.

The prevalence of dugs and alcohol in our daily lives

Alcohol certainly does play a big role in the lives of many Australians. A study conducted by The National Drug Strategy Household Survey in 2019 of people aged 14 years and over revealed:

  • 3 in 4 Australians had consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months.
  • 2 in 5 had used illicit drugs in their lifetime.

The same survey, conducted in 2016, found that:

  • 17.1% of Australians exceeded the lifetime risk guidelines.
  • 1 in 6 Australians put themselves or others at risk of harm while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Ice was the second most commonly used illegal drug after cannabis.
  • 22% of illicit drug users experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress.

Which industries have higher rates of drug and alcohol use?

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. A report by The National Centre for Education and Training on Addictions, found that occupations that showed high rates of substance use include:

  • Hospitality
  • Construction
  • Retail
  • Transport
  • Finance
  • Manufacturing

The effects of drugs and alcohol on workplace safety

Around 11% of workplace injuries and accidents, involve alcohol.

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 their colleague. 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 injuring to themselves or others.

The impact of drugs and alcohol on your ability to claim

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. Alternatively, you may have your 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, you may be able to hold your employer liable for your injury depending on the circumstances of how the injury occurred.

Employers’ responsibilities when it comes to drugs and alcohol in the workplace

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 risks include:

  • Developing and implementing an alcohol policy with input from workers;
  • Providing resources to employees about the harmful effects of alcohol;
  • Encouraging workers to access the programs available through the Australian Drug Foundation;
  • 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 responsibly!

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