24.08.2009 Smoking policies, drugs and alcohol abuse

Smoking, drugs and alcohol abuse can significantly weaken your business' performance. Disruption to your business can occur both in terms of lost productivity by the employee in question and in damage to workplace morale.  Staff with a drug or alcohol problem may take time off sick or have unexplained absences, the quality of their work may suffer and they may also abuse fellow workers.
Drug and alcohol abuse can also pose a serious risk to workplace safety, particularly for workers whose job involves tasks such as operating machinery or driving a vehicle.
As part of your responsibilities for health and safety it's a good idea to draw up clear policies on smoking, drugs and alcohol abuse and to make sure that these are complied with.
Having clear policies on smoking, drugs and alcohol can help employers, managers and employees deal with any issues that may arise.
The development and implementation of such policies help you meet your legal responsibilities to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all employees. In the case of smoking at work, a written policy shows how you are meeting your legal responsibilities.
Policies usually have a disciplinary element - for instance setting out what action might be taken if alcohol or drug abuse interferes with an employee's work. But as prevention is better than cure, an effective policy will stress that support will be offered to any employee with problems in this area.
Other benefits of policies for smoking, drugs and alcohol
  • Employees have clear guidance on what they can and cannot do.
  • Employees know what support is available, as well as which disciplinary procedures apply.
  • Managers have clear guidance about the procedures they should follow if a problem arises.
  • Policies raise awareness. They can encourage individuals to take action to remedy any problems they have.
  • By reducing problems with substance abuse, you can reduce illness and staff turnover and increase productivity.
  • You reduce the risk of your employees driving or operating dangerous equipment while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Policies help you meet your legal responsibilities for health, safety and employee welfare.

Drawing up your policies is only the first step. Implementation is crucial. Make sure that your policies are communicated to everyone in your business and that it's made clear that issues raised will be dealt with sensitively and in confidence.

Smokefree policies

Smoking is now banned in virtually all enclosed public places and workplaces in the UK. You need to install no-smoking signs in smokefree premises and company vehicles.
You also need to make sure as much as is reasonably possible that employees and customers keep to the rules.
Drawing up a smokefree policy has clear benefits, including:
  • a healthier workforce
  • reduced disputes between smokers and non-smokers
  • cleaner premises
  • a better image
  • increased compliance with your health and safety responsibilities
As an employer you have a general duty to protect, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of your employees. This includes any risks arising from exposure to second-hand smoke. You should prioritise the health needs of non-smoking staff. These duties will continue to apply in exempted premises.
What your smokefree policy should cover
  • Acknowledge the right of your employees to work in a smokefree environment.
  • Identify the members of management and staff who have the responsibility for implementing the policy.
  • Identify the outside areas where people can smoke, but ensure those areas are not enclosed.
  • Provide information on how to obtain help to quit smoking.
  • Set out the means of communicating your policy to all members of your staff (including new employees before they start work) and to members of the public using your premises and vehicles.
  • Set out the means of communicating to your staff and customers where they can smoke if they want to.
You will need to decide how to deal with non-compliance with your smokefree policy and how the policy fits within your existing health and safety and discipline policies.
Dealing with alcohol abuse

Inappropriate alcohol consumption can lead to serious workplace safety hazards. Even small amounts can impair an individual's judgement and reactions, increasing the risk of an accident occurring.
Other problems that inappropriate alcohol consumption can cause include:
  • absenteeism and sickness
  • reduced productivity
  • unprofessional behaviour, which can lead to lost business
A policy on alcohol

A strict no-alcohol rule may be necessary for health and safety reasons, eg in businesses where people operate machinery or drive vehicles.
Other businesses might not need to be this strict, eg moderate lunchtime drinking may be permitted.
Draw up clear guidelines setting out the disciplinary consequences of alcohol-related problems at work, eg an employee drinking and driving while on company business might be dismissed.
Dealing with alcohol abuse
You should learn to watch for signs that might indicate an employee is having problems. These include:
  • frequent hangovers
  • above average time off sick
  • reduced productivity
  • workplace accidents
  • disciplinary problems
  • customer complaints
You can keep confidential records of signs such as these to allow you to build up a picture of any problems there may be.
It is difficult to raise issues of alcohol misuse. Try to be sympathetic - ask what's causing the problems. You may want to encourage the person to see their GP or other support services, eg
Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
You have clear responsibilities for the health, safety and welfare of your employees. You might be liable to charges if you allow employees under the influence of alcohol to continue working where this places them or others at risk.
Dealing with drug abuse

Drug misuse can be a serious problem not only for the misuser but also for your business and sometimes for their co-workers. You have a clear duty to protect your employees' health, safety and welfare, so you might be liable to charges if you let an employee's drug use place themselves or others at risk.
As well as improving safety, tackling drug misuse - or preventing it in the first place - also brings other business benefits, such as maintaining productivity levels and avoiding days being lost to illness.
Drug use is a very sensitive area and, short of seeing someone taking drugs, it can be difficult to know when there's a problem. Some of the signs of possible drug misuse include:
  • erratic behaviour
  • mood swings
  • poor time-keeping
  • increased sickness absence
  • change in attitude to work and colleagues
  • reduced productivity
It's important to bear in mind that these factors might have a range of causes. They don't necessarily mean that someone is misusing drugs.
If an employee's behaviour is proving disruptive a confidential conversation may be the best way of identifying the underlying problems, whether drug-related or not.
There are clear instances where disciplinary action may be an appropriate response to drug misuse, eg where the safety of your workplace is compromised.
Where possible be supportive towards employees with drug problems. Often the best course of action is referral to the appropriate counselling, such as the EAP.
The Business Link website offers practical advice for business and carries several supporting information downloads in relation to the above, plus many useful links.  Also visit the official Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website for related information or call 0845 345 0055.
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