Alcohol abuse by company staff may cause accidents resulting in damage to property and injury to staff. In the UK, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, a company director has a legal responsibility to provide a safe working environment for all. This calls for alcohol testing of all employees, at all levels, at least as a preventative measure.
Alcohol usage can also result in reduced and low quality work output, damaged customer relations, and poor company perception, as well as potentially critical errors, such as in computer operation. Each of these will have a negative cost impact to the company. Then there are the issues of increased absenteeism and sickness, more frequent lateness for work, and increased risk of theft of property and cash from the company and other staff. Each of these carries a cost.
Also, if it is shown that a person had alcohol in their system at the time of an ‘accident’, it may have significant implications in terms of later financial claims for damages against the company and/or their insurance company.
Some companies rely simply on observation by other staff members – such as supervisors, gate staff, or even qualified medical staff. But this method of alcohol detection is generally insufficient. This is because experienced drinkers are often skilled in hiding the outward symptoms of alcohol intoxication, even though they are still impaired with respect to reactions, coordination and complex skills.
So: to rely on visual perception alone is not good enough. By the time the at-risk individual is so identified, it is generally too late. And, of course, testing after an accident has occurred can never really be effective – the damage is already done!
To counter these problems, which will be present to some extent in every company [and the lack of evidence to the contrary should not lead to the conclusion that a problem does not exist] many commercial organisations conduct breath testing according to any or all of the following regimes. These should be defined in a company policy document, the contents of which must be fully understood by all staff:
Pre-Employment: a breath test at interview establishes the company’s policy on alcohol right from the outset.
Random: anybody, anytime.
100/150%: everyone is tested at least once a day, or perhaps once a week, and half are then tested a second time in that same period – but always, of course, unannounced.
For Cause: after any defined ‘incident’ or ‘accident’.
On Suspicion: an individual showing signs of intoxication, or who may be consistently late for work, or who is frequently absent through sickness.
100% on Entry: everyone entering a safety critical area – such as a mine, high-rise construction site, power station or oil rig – is tested. Some people may also be tested on exit from the facility to ensure their abstinence from alcohol while they were at work.