Dying on the Job…The Toll of Drugs and Alcohol on Workers

alcohol test, alcohol testing, alcohol testing australiaAustralian workers are dying on the job as a result of substance abuse. The numbers speak for themselves in terms of the toll alcohol and drugs are having on employees. According to more than one study, approximately 25 percent of workplace accidents and 10 percent of workplace fatalities are attributed to employees under the influence of one or more substances.1

Another way to consider the impact of alcohol and illicit drug use is in terms of the dollar impact on the workforce. Total reduction in labour productive capacity equated to $4,099 million for the fiscal year 2004-2005. Alcohol accounted for 26.8 percent of lost productivity due whilst illicit drugs accounted for 12.5 percent. Yet the toll is much worse than just lost productivity because alcohol and tobacco cause premature deaths.2

Premature employee deaths are accounted for in a number of ways and not all deaths occur whilst the employees are working. The actual time and location of the worker death is not as important as the fact the worker dies earlier than he/she would have if not for abusing illicit drugs or alcohol or both.

  • Road deaths
  • Industrial accidents eventually leading to premature death
  • On-the-job deaths
  • Drug or alcohol related organ damage leading to early death
  • Accidental poisoning by drugs or alcohol
  • Suicides

Some organisations report even higher statistics suggesting that as many as 30 percent of all workplace fatalities are due to alcohol or drugs.3 The important fact to keep in mind is that any death due to illicit drug use or alcohol abuse is one death too many. Though the emphasis by the Australian federal government and the states is on drug and alcohol testing for safety purposes, employers are concerned about the health and safety of workers for humane reasons also. That is one reason why companies invest in Employee Assistance Plans (EAPs) which are not mandated by law. These plans are designed to give employees a chance to end substance abuse practices through professional counselling and behaviour modification but also reflect a desire by employers to see the workers become fit to resume working.

If employers did not have honest intentions when implementing a drug and alcohol policy, they would simply fire the employees who fail to pass blanket and random tests. Most organisations want to give employees a second chance to resume productivity.  The fact is that employees have the ultimate responsibility to stay free of drugs and alcohol whilst working.

Implementing an alcohol testing program is an important component of a solid workplace safety program. What some employers don’t understand when developing and managing policies and procedures is that the program must encourage people to report so that workers abusing drugs or alcohol can get help. Testing procedures using the Oraline saliva test or the urine drug test should not become a method of employee punishment.

Studies have reported various percentages as far as the number of drug users who are employed. The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre did a study of long term illicit drug users and the results supported previous study results by a variety of government and private agencies showing a significant percentage are employed. In fact, a study of cocaine deaths in 2001 reported that among the study subjects:4

  • The average age of cocaine death victims was 34 years old
  • 50 percent of the victims were employed
  • 26 percent worked in professional occupations
  • Most of the cocaine users were not receiving any help
  • 3 out of 4 were married or in a serious relationship
  • 3 out of 4 were Australians

You cannot stereotype drug and alcohol abusers. The abuser may be the industrial worker, the truck driver or the professional department head. The abuser may be young, middle-aged or older. The drug and alcohol user is probably married, has a nice family, was born in Australia and has been a loyal worker.

The employer can learn from these studies that the substance abuser may be the engineer sitting at the desk across the aisle or the production supervisor working across town at the plant. Alcohol and illicit drugs don’t discriminate and therefore, abusers cannot be stereotyped.

CMM Technology at http://www.cmm.com.au/ has many year of experience working with employers from multiple industries as they develop and refine their drug and alcohol policies and procedures. The experts can provide professional assistance so that employers develop a fair and thorough testing program.


1. Andrew Ermer(Manager – National Construction Services, A. I. (2011). Alcohol and Other Drugs – Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner. Retrieved May 26, 2011, from Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner: http://bit.ly/o4YtgM

2. Collins, D. J., Lapsley, H. M., & Ales, U. o. (2008). The Avoidable Costs of Alcohol Abuse in Australia and the Potential Benefits of Effective Policies to Reduce the Social Costs of Alcohol. Retrieved May 10, 2011, from Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing: http://bit.ly/qsR8rB

3. United Voice. (2011). Drugs and Alcohol. Retrieved May 26, 2011, from United Voice: http://unitedvoice.org.au/rights-and-awards/ohs/#drugsandalcohol

4. Drug Adviosry Council of Australia. (2010). Cocaine Deaths. Retrieved May 27, 2011, from Drug Advisory Council of Australia: http://www.daca.org.au/illicit/cocaine/articles/html/Cocaine_deaths.html

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