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‘Tis the Season to be Jolly! – An Employer’s Guide

The festive season is well and truly upon us with Christmas just around the corner and everybody looking forward to spending a few days with friends and family, enjoying all that the holiday period has to offer.  This means parties (often works Christmas parties), eating, drinking and making merry.  Most construction company owners are so busy focusing on the health and safety risks brought on by the cold weather, the snow and ice, that the risks of Christmas are often forgotten.  However, Christmas and New Year celebrations represent a range of risks for employers, often through the increased use of alcohol and drugs. 

Here in the UK up to 17 million working days are lost annually as a result of alcohol consumption which costs the economy a massive £7, 3 billion in lost productivity!  While we expect to see employees arriving for work looking a little the worse for wear (especially after the works Christmas party), anybody who turns up for work smelling of alcohol, even from the night before, presents a significant safety risk to themselves, colleagues and customers.

The chances of being hungover at work increase significantly over the festive season due to the number of social activities available at this time.  This is why a substance misuse policy is such a good idea, especially in an industry that already presents more than its fair share of risks to workers.  Any employer considering implementing a substance misuse policy needs to know that such a policy should:

  • Be created in consultation with staff with the aim of supporting those who may already be abusing alcohol and drugs, rather than punishing them.
  • State that any employee discovered on work premises in possession of, or dealing drugs will be reported to the police immediately.
  • Outline that being in work under the influence of alcohol or drugs is against the contract of employment and may lead to immediate suspension or even dismissal.
  • Provide the contact information for relevant support groups that can help any employees who have an addition to either alcohol or drugs (including prescription drugs).

It’s vital that you make sure that your employees know that they can admit any alcohol or drug problem to a manager or supervisor and you’ll need to make sure that you have people trained to enter into dialogue with any employees who come forward to assist them in getting the support they need.  As part of the substance misuse policy, employers can include testing and screening to control any potential risks cause by drug and alcohol use.  Employers should:

  • Firstly get employees to agree to the principle of screening (if this has not already been implemented) in their contract of employment and make everybody aware that random or scheduled screenings can take place at any time. 
  • Get written consent from every employee, stating that they are willing to consent to each specific test that will be conducted.  If both alcohol and drug screening are to take place, then employees need to provide written consent for each individual test before they commence. 

Throughout the coming festive season, employers and business owners should be especially watchful in order to ensure that employees and contractors are not unfit for work due to alcohol or drug use.  Taking a proactive approach means that you can minimise risks and comply with legislation at all times.