Alcohol Concern state that alcohol misuse is one of the biggest risk factors for death, ill-health and disability in the UK, resulting in over 8000 deaths per year. In case we fall into the trap of thinking that most of these people are students or unemployed, they are not. The problems are under our nose. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that people in employment are more likely to have exceeded their daily limit than those not in employment. Of those working people, those in managerial and professional roles drink more than those in “routine or manual” occupations.
The UK Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines make it clear that there is no risk-free level of alcohol consumption, but that health risks from alcohol remain low for men and women drinking fewer than 14 units a week, spread out to avoid binge drinking.
In addition to the long-term effects on health – there is evidence of links to diabetes, depression, brain damage, hepatitis, cirrhosis and a long list of cancers – alcohol impacts productivity and safety. Alcohol Concern cites research suggesting that almost a third of employees have attended work with a hangover, with one in ten admitting they do so at least once a month. Other research has suggested that workers are twice as likely to be absent from work the day after alcohol is consumed. The UK House of Commons Health Committee reported in 2012 that lost productivity due to alcohol across the UK costs £7.3 billion a year, with total costs to society estimated at £21 billion.
As well as productivity losses, people are more likely to have accidents, with Alcohol Concern suggesting that as many as 25% of workplace accidents could be alcohol-related.
What should we be doing about this? Here are our top 6 tips on tackling alcohol problems in the work place.
Have a clear written policy to let staff know what is expected of them. Are you happy with the legal alcohol limits for driving, or do you need to tell workers that no alcohol can be drunk during the working day? How far can your policy cover what people do outside work?
2. Hazard Identification
Identify which occupations would be most affected. Drivers, those operating safety critical machinery, or those carrying out critical maintenance are an obvious starting point. Does your policy apply different rules for different roles? Worker engagement is important here – introducing limits and screening must involve the workers concerned, so they understand why additional controls are necessary.
3. Employee Assistence
Some workers might request help for an alcohol problem, whilst others might be spotted by their behaviour. Providing training on how to recognise problems – and what to do about it – is therefore useful for all staff. Once identified, support might be provided through an external service, or in-house. There is evidence that in-work counselling can help people to reduce their alcohol consumption, but one-to-one counselling can be expensive. Another approach uses web-based interventions, where support can be provided online. Some people find this type of support easier to access, as it is more anonymous and more flexible.
4. Health Promotion
Whilst individuals with an identified problem need specialist support, some organisations run workplace campaigns and education programmes which involve everyone, so even the “social” drinkers can be supported. The best programmes include alcohol within a wider agenda of health promotion, for example discussing exercise and diet. Regular events rather than one-off campaigns are more effective in bringing about lifestyle changes and reductions in absenteeism.
5. Workplace Environment
Some workers might resort to drink to “cope” with the stress or musculoskeletal pain caused by work. Stress and musculoskeletal disorders are the two leading causes of absence from work in the UK, so should already be targets for health management.
The other impact of the work environment is social. The prevalence of the long, alcohol-fuelled business lunch has reduced, but is still part of some working cultures. Employees working away from home might be more prone to solitary drinking to fill a lonely evening, or to calm pre-flight nerves. Other workplaces have a culture of “a pint after work.” Be aware of the cultural norms in your workplace relating to alcohol and see if any action is needed. There is one area in particular where you should take note in the next few weeks.
6. Christmas Parties
Most Christmas parties include alcohol. For those with a recognised problem such occasions can be a battle of self-will – trying to resist temptation, and yet wanting to join in. Even for those who the rest of the year are moderate drinkers, Christmas presents a health risk we might be tempted to ignore.
Perhaps you could persuade your organisation to hold a different type of Christmas event this year - how about a sleigh ride, or a trip to a ski-centre? Or go carol singing to fund-raise for a charity, or support a local Rotary Club with their reindeer run. Finish the event with steaming mugs of hot chocolate and (alcohol-free) mince pies. On the run-up to Christmas, the team in Effective Software headed out in support of the homeless charity Simon to raise awareness and much needed funds.
If you do have alcohol, make sure that there are soft alternatives. Offer mocktails alongside the cocktails, fruit juice and fizzy drinks alongside the beer and wine. Make sure there is plenty of drinking water available. I was invited to one works event where beer and wine were free, but you had to go downstairs and queue at the bar for soft drinks!
One final statistic. If you still think that a glass of red wine every day is good for you, beware. The only group for whom the odd glass has the potential for a reduction in risk of death is women over the age of 55 – and then only if they drink fewer.
It's always important to be able to identify potential risks in your workplace, at all times of the year. Effectives risk assessment software module was created to ensure full control of the risk assessment lifecycle.
For more information as to how Effective Software can help you to organise and streamline any of your organisations health and safety processes, why not contact one of our super friendly product specialists or request a demo.
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