Alcoholism is a disease that can affect anyone. Struggling with the problem of alcohol dependency or addiction is a difficult path and requires compassion and support when dealing with it. It is an individual’s choice to drink alcohol. However, when the use or abuse of alcohol interferes with a person’s ability to perform his or her work duties, problems arise. Concerns also emerge regarding health and safety issues.
Effects of alcohol include impairment of a person’s judgement, delays in reflexes, and slurred speech. These issues can all contribute to an increase in accidents and poor performance, and a decrease in attendance. For a business, this can mean a loss in profits, payouts for workplace accidents, and an increase in staffing costs, as well as endangering others and the risk of lawsuits. Clear restrictions and guidelines on alcohol use in the workplace are essential to ensure the health and safety of all employees.
The issue of an alcoholic employee becomes a concern when the individual drinks during work hours, during breaks or before coming to work. In addition, heavy drinking outside of working hours can impact work performance as well. If an individual is having extended absences, a number of accidents or other drink-related incidents on their record, or is involved in disciplinary issues, these may be an indication of an alcohol issue. The physical signs of intoxication or drunkenness – slurred speech, the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath, sloppy appearance or tardiness – can also help to identify the problem.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that globally 3-5% of the average work force are alcohol dependent, and up to 25% drink heavily enough to be at risk of dependence. It has also estimated that in the UK between 11 and 17 million work days are lost every year because of excessive drinking, which can cost up to £1.8 billion annually. This figure does not take into consideration the cost of injuries, stress, depression and worker’s compensation that are associated with alcohol use, which would potentially multiply the numbers.
When an individual is obviously intoxicated during work hours there is a sensitivity about how to deal with the issue. If a person is responsible for operating heavy machinery, uses sharp implements such as knives or cutting tools, works in a hospital or health industry or drives a vehicle, there are serious implications for the individual and for others. Restricting a person from engaging in these activities is essential to maintain workplace safety.
Being intoxicated in any role can be problematic. If a person is intoxicated when they are working in a service industry, this can affect how well they are working, whether they are meeting deadlines, or how they interact with other staff members as well as customers. Drinking during work hours can affect a person’s conduct, as well as how they are representing the company or workplace.
There are a number of reasons why someone could be using alcohol, e.g., as a way to deal with personal issues. They could be personal or family problems, or they could be related to work itself. Work stresses, monotony, long shifts or even just the opportunity to drink and socialize could all be contributing. Resolving some of these problems through appropriate management or referral tools can help to reduce the risk and improve the health of an employee.
Many organizations and companies use an Employee Assistance Program to which a person can be referred for professional help if there is an apparent personal problem. The Employee Assistance Program offers counselling and referral services for people who are going through issues that are affecting their performance in the workplace. The service is available to all employees and their families and can be a way that a manager or supervisor can get help for their staff member in a non-confrontational way.
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