A Christmas tipple too far? The law on workplace drinking
As the festive season is in full swing, it is important to assess your legal responsibility for ensuring staff are not over the alcohol limit while at work – and ensure you have the resources so employees can safely carry out their work. SHP explores the issue.
“Don’t mix it” – the HSE guide to alcohol in the workplace
It is inevitable that during the months of December and January, employees will increase their levels of socialising with colleagues and outside of the workplace – and therefore also increase their alcohol intake.
Although workers will often know the risks – and implications – associated with working under the influence of alcohol, unfortunately many people do not allow the additional time required to let alcohol pass through their bodies after an evening of consuming alcohol.
The results of this are seen most clearly in the figures produced by road safety charity Think! Each year, 5,500 people fail breathalyser tests between 6am and mid-day every year.
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers have a general duty to ensure, as far is reasonably practical, the health, safety and welfare of employees. If an employer knowingly allows a member of staff who is under the influence to continue working, they could be prosecuted.
To help tackle Christmas drinking issues, many companies around the UK are adopting compulsory alcohol screening and testing for employees, especially those in safety-sensitive industries including jobs that require the operation of industrial machinery or driving and logistics.
Niall Robinson, Product and Procurement Manager at Arco, which produces breathalysers for firms to use, said: “When you look at the research into ‘morning after’ drink driving offences, the stats are quite shocking.
“Although employers are not legally responsible for staff members’ commute to work, this statistic clearly shows the number of workers who may still be over the legal limit once they arrive at work and carry out tasks.
“Businesses have a responsibility to ensure their workforce are fit for work, including alcohol consumption. With testing and screening, employers can have peace of mind knowing their staff are under the limit and safe to carry out their duties.”
Deciding on policies
Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) which provides advice to employers on all elements of workplace law, has provided a collection of key points for alcohol and drugs policies for firms to have on their website:
- Policies should be used to ensure problems are dealt with effectively and consistently.
- Under the misuse of drugs act drugs are classified according to their perceived danger.
- Employers have legal obligations under the Health and Safety at work Act 1974, The Transport and Works Act 1992 and The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
- Managers should be trained to deal with workers who seek help.
The service also outlines how any alcohol or drugs policy should be used to ensure problems are dealt with effectively, and consistently and early on in the process.
According to Acas, the policies should: “protect workers and encourage sufferers to seek help. An education programme for managers is particularly important: it could include details of signs to look for, how to deal with workers who seek help, and where expert advice and help may be obtained.
“Being able to direct your workers to help is an important step. This may help them to recognise the dangers of alcohol, drug and other substance misuse and encourage them to seek help. It may also persuade your management and staff that covering up for someone with a drugs problem is not in that person’s long-term interests.”
There are a number of pieces of legislation to consider when considering alcohol policy:
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 – section 2: duty on employer to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999: places duty on an employer to assess the risks to the health and safety of employees. This means an employer can be prosecuted if they knowingly allow an employee to continue working while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and their behaviour places the employee themselves or others at risk.
- Misuse of Drugs Act 1971: makes it an offence for someone to knowingly permit the production, supply or use of controlled drugs on their premises except in specified circumstances (for example drugs prescribed by a doctor).
- Road Traffic Act 1988: states that any person who, when driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, is unfit to drive through drink or drugs shall be guilty of an offence.
- Transport and Works Act 1992: makes it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through drugs and/or drink while working on railways, tramways and other guided transport systems.
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