Phase 1: Design
The success and credibility of a fitness for work alcohol policy is dependent on the quality of planning and preparation.1
Workplaces vary in terms of the workplace culture and environments including their size and structure, the nature of the work, workplace risk factors and potential hazards. Therefore, a generic policy is unlikely to be effective in preventing and managing alcohol-related fitness for work issues within your workplace.
Designing a policy that is specific to the needs and resources of your workplace is required and involves identifying:
Management support and commitment for a fitness for work alcohol policy is essential.
In-principle agreement within the workplace and from management should be in place prior to developing a workplace fitness for work alcohol policy.
Designing a policy should be underpinned by open and participatory consultation with employers and employees and their representatives.
Engaging all stakeholders is crucial in designing, implementing, managing and evaluating workplace policy.
Recognition of the need for the policy to have universal application to all employees in the workplace is also required. Selective application will undermine the effectiveness of your policy and significantly impact on workplace relations and employee morale.
Policy Framework and Support Structure
Workplaces may choose to respond to alcohol-related harm and issues within the scope of existing fitness for work or occupational safety and health policy frameworks or through the development of a new policy.
The structure and process for designing, implementing, managing and reviewing the policy will be unique to each workplace.
For larger workplaces, existing safety and health committees or a specific working group with employer, employees (including managers, supervisors, safety and health and union representatives) may be established to lead the policy process.
The committee or working group should have management support, clear objectives and timeframes and adequate resources to develop, implement and manage the policy.
For smaller workplaces, elected health and safety representatives or a nominated management representative responsible for safety and health may lead the policy process.
Workplaces may also want to engage specialist assistance from within or outside the workplace to assist in the design and implementation of the policy. For further information and support contact the Drug and Alcohol Office on 08 9370 0333 or DAO.email@example.com
Rationale for Responding – A Risk Management Approach
Considering the rationale for responding to alcohol-related harm in/or related to the workplace is a key stage in designing a workplace policy.
Gathering information about alcohol-related risks, harms and issues in your workplace is an important step in policy design. Identifying these provides a foundation from which your workplace can begin to understand and communicate the rationale for responding, designing and implementing an effective fitness for work alcohol policy.
As with any other workplace safety and health issue, this can be achieved through a risk management approach, involving workplace hazard identification and a conducting a workplace risk and needs assessment.
Workplace Hazard Identification
The hazards and risks associated with workplace alcohol-related harm should be assessed in the same way as other occupational safety and health issues. 2
Potential hazards associated with the use or effects of alcohol will vary from one workplace to another and in some workplaces the hazards may be greater due to the nature of the industry and the work undertaken including 2:
- operation of machinery;
- driving in the course of work;
- situations where concentration or motor coordination is relied on to carry out a job;
- use of hazardous substances;
- performing duties as part of a team; and
- relations with customers and other employees.
Assessing the level of risk that alcohol poses in the workplace and identifying the specific hazards that may cause injury or harm to the health of the employer and employees is required. The strategies to remove identified hazards should be addressed immediately and procedures to prevent potential hazards arising developed.
Workplace risk and needs assessment
An effective fitness for work alcohol policy should be informed by a workplace risk and needs assessment, conducted in consultation with employees and their representatives.
The workplace risk and needs assessment will identify the extent and nature of alcohol-related risk factors, internal and external to your workplace, the type of responses required to address these based on the specific needs and resources of your workplace 3 4.
Key elements for consideration in a workplace risk and needs assessment include:
- What is your workplace culture around alcohol?
- What are the risk factors associated with your workforce?
- What workplace factors increase alcohol-related risks and harms?
- Is alcohol available in the workplace? How and when is it available?
- What are the hazards associated with alcohol-related harm and the nature of the work undertaken in the workplace?
- What are you doing to ensure a safe workplace? Have the identified hazards been addressed and removed?
- Is this consistent with relevant laws and occupational safety and health legislation?
- What are the benefits to responding to alcohol-related harm in your workplace?
Consultation is important in designing and successfully implementing an effective policy. Consultation is an ongoing process providing opportunities for feedback, acceptance and ownership of a workplace fitness for work alcohol policy.
Consultation promotes stakeholder engagement and enhances the overall credibility of the policy, facilitating implementation and ongoing management, especially in policies that include elements of alcohol testing 2 5.
Engaging all stakeholders through open and participatory processes to recognise the value of and support the scope of change, will ultimately improve the overall impact and outcomes of your workplace policy.
As an employer you have a duty to consult and co-operate with your employees; the legal responsibility for safety and health decisions at a workplace lies with the employer6. Open and participatory consultation processes will support employers in the ongoing implementation and management of the policy.
Who should be consulted?
The key stakeholders involved in developing a fitness for work alcohol policy include employers, employees and their representatives, including union and workplace health and safety officers.
Participation of employees is essential. Employees play a key role in identifying external and internal conditions and quantifying the nature of alcohol-related harm in the workplace. Understanding these factors, considering feedback and recommendations and mutually identifying appropriate responses to addressing these are critical to policy design and development.
Employees will be involved with implementing any new arrangements and will be directly affected by the policy and procedures. Understanding the rationale for change, acceptance of and commitment to this is essential.
In some industries and workplaces engaging union representatives is critical. Gaining union support for your workplace rationale and fostering positive involvement and cooperation in policy design and implementation is also important 5. Union engagement at the outset will aid the credibility, acceptance and overall impact of your fitness for work policy.
Effective communication strategies to raise the awareness of the rationale for responding, including the need to develop a policy, should be adopted to ensure regular consultation and feedback 2.
The nature, size and unique needs of individual workplaces will determine the nature of the communication strategies as well as the consultation process and duration.
Consultation can be achieved through forums, workshops, small group discussions and team meetings and should include:
- preliminary awareness raising and information including the rationale for responding to alcohol-related harm in or related to the workplace;
- opportunities for participants to understand and identify workforce risk factors and workplace factors that contribute to alcohol-related harm and potential hazards and identify and develop mutually acceptable goals and procedures 3 5; and
- a feedback loop that serves to ensure open communication through the policy process, including collating feedback from consultations to identify appropriate responses, guide the development of workplace procedures and gain feedback on draft policy and procedures prior to management endorsement and implementation. 2 6
Workplaces may wish to engage specialist assistance from within or outside the workplace to assist with the consultation phase of developing a fitness for work alcohol policy. For further information and support contact the Drug and Alcohol Office on 08 9370 0333 or DAO.firstname.lastname@example.org
National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction. (2006). Responding to Alcohol and Other Drug Related Issues in the Workplace: An Information and Resource Package. NCETA, Adelaide, South Australia.
Commission for Occupational Health and Safety. (2008). Guidance Note Alcohol and Other drugs at the Workplace. MIAC. Government of Western Australia.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. (2012). Framework for alcohol and drug management in the workplace. Department of Justice and Attorney-General.
Pidd, K.and Roche, A. (2013). Policy Talk. Workplace alcohol and other drug programs: What is good practice? Australian Drug Foundation.
Allsop, S., Pillips, M. and Calogero, C. (2001). Drugs and work: responding to alcohol and other drug problems in Australian workplaces. Melbourne. Australia.
Guidance Note. (2005). General duty of care in Western Australian workplaces. Commission for Occupational Health and Safety.
Page last updated: 20 July 2020