The legal position
You have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of your employees. If you knowingly allow an employee under the influence of excess consumption of alcohol to continue working and this places the employee or others at risk, you could be prosecuted. Similarly, your employees are also required to take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by what they do.
In the transport industry, there is additional legislation in place to control the misuse of alcohol and drugs. The Transport and Works Act 1992 makes it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through drink and/or drugs while working on railways, tramways and other guided transport systems. The operators of the transport system would also be guilty of an offence unless they had shown all due diligence in trying to prevent such an offence being committed.
What can you do?
A straightforward four-step process for dealing with alcohol problems at work is set out below, developed by the Health Education Authority, the Health and Safety Executive, and the Department of Health. All companies – large and small – can benefit from an agreed policy on alcohol.
Step 1 – Find out if there is a problem
Problems may come from employees:
- drinking during working hours;
- drinking during breaks or before coming on shift;
- drinking heavily regularly, outside working hours;
- getting drunk outside working hours.
You may find it useful to find out from your employees what they know about the effects of alcohol on health and safety, what they feel currently about drinking alcohol during working hours and their understanding of any restrictions or rules on alcohol use in your business.
You may also want to explore the information you have on:
- sickness absence;
- accident records;
- disciplinary problems. This may help you to find out if alcohol is harming your business.