Q&A with WHS Manager Alana Morris
Q: What are my responsibilities as a PCBU or Worker in relation to Drugs and Alcohol in the workplace and what impairments can drugs and alcohol cause?
A: The use of alcohol and other drugs may damage a person's physical and mental health and impact workplace health and safety.
The work health and safety risks come from the effects that alcohol and other drugs (including medicines) can have on behaviour. The impairment of behaviour can cause affected workers to injure themselves or others. For example, drugs and alcohol may affect coordination and cause drowsiness and therefore driving a vehicle or operating machinery is dangerous.
Substance Abuse disorders are diagnosable as a Mental Health Illness.
The prevailing workplace culture, availability, physical isolation, job satisfaction and stress are just a few of the factors that might increase a worker's likelihood of alcohol or other drug consumption.
Workers 'under the influence' present many possible issues including:
- illness and/or absenteeism;
- blurred vision;
- slurred speech;
- extreme emotional highs and lows;
- alertness, co-ordination and motor control may be affected;
- workers may be drowsy or fall asleep at work;
- workers may suddenly become aggressive or violent;
- judgement or self-control may be affected;
- hangovers including headaches, shaking, vomiting and nausea;
- putting co-workers in the difficult position of being expected to cover for unsafe work practices or having to report a fellow worker;
- preoccupation with obtaining and using substances or the illegal sale of alcohol or other drugs while at work;
- damage to property or equipment;
- negative publicity for a business;
- loss of productivity; and,
- workers who are injured at work while affected by alcohol or other drugs may not be able eligible for workers compensation.
The hazards associated with the consumption of alcohol and illicit drugs by workers before or while at work should be identified and a strategy developed to control them, in the same way that any other workplace hazard would be.
Identify, Assess, Control and Review.
The aim of the strategy should be to eliminate or reduce alcohol and other drug related harm, as far as is practicable. This can be achieved through a three-tiered approach of:
- providing information and education;
- introducing a policy and associated procedures for dealing with affected workers; and,
- creating opportunities for return to usual work duties by affected workers.
In consultation with their workers a person conducting a business or undertaking should develop a drug and alcohol policy that reflects the health and safety needs of their workplace.
A worker’s responsibility is to be fit for work or advise a Supervisor/ Manager if there is an issue affecting their fitness for work. A worker must also comply with any reasonable safety instruction, which may include testing, stand down or training.
If you, or someone you know, is affected by Alcohol and or Drugs, you can contact OzHelp on
(02) 6251 4166 for a confidential discussion and further information on support services available.
Q: Are workers required to disclose an existing Mental Health condition?
A: Workers are not required to disclose information about a mental health condition to their manager or supervisor if the mental health condition does not affect how they do their job. However, organisational systems should be in place to ensure workers understand the importance of getting medical advice when their disability or long-term health condition may affect their ability to carry out the inherent or essential requirements of the job, including working safely.
Workers should be encouraged to consult their treating medical practitioner if they believe the job requirements may exacerbate their condition and then discuss this medical advice with their manager. If a worker discloses a condition to a manager or supervisor, they are legally obliged to keep the information confidential, unless the worker gives written permission for them to share.
Generally, employers, service providers and others must make reasonable adjustments for people with a disability to enable them to have the same opportunities as others.
If reasonable adjustments are required to help an employee with disability can do his or her job, your costs may be covered by the Employment Assistance Fund.
Disclosure during recruitment processes – Having a mental health condition does not often significantly affect a person’s ability to perform the inherent requirements of a job. However, during the recruitment process you may ask an applicant to disclose a known disability or illness, including a mental health condition that might reasonably be expected to impact on the applicant’s ability to perform inherent requirements of the job and to identify if any reasonable adjustments may be needed.
Under the Fair Work Act 2009, the prohibition on adverse action by a prospective employer against a prospective employee based on physical or mental disability does not apply to action taken because of the inherent requirements of a position. If a prospective employee does not disclose a known pre-existing condition when requested, it may affect their access to workers’ compensation if the condition worsens or recurs in that employment.
Given the sensitivities around requesting applicants to disclose their health conditions (and the risk you may be in breach of other laws if you seek this information without considering its relevance to the role and circumstances), you should get advice from a workplace relations expert before including this in your recruitment processes.
For more information and key contacts for National Safe Work Month, check out our website here
If you have any WHS related enquiries, please don’t hesitate to contact our WHS Manager, Alana Morris on 02 6175 5900