How to implement workplace drugs and alcohol training

By Amy Steed
Thursday, 28 February, 2019

How to implement workplace drugs and alcohol training

Research shows that the way in which a workplace responds to substance abuse can have a big influence over the extent of the problem.

In fact, as well as having the capacity to prevent drug and alcohol abuse, workplaces can also potentially make the situation worse.

Researchers at the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) at Flinders University have studied the experiences of more than 100 managers and supervisors who undertook alcohol and other drug (AOD) training sessions.

They have found that businesses can benefit from a series of training workshops to keep abreast of key issues including cannabis and opioid addiction. In addition, companies which invest in training managers and supervisors in AOD ‘first aid’ courses can enhance the workplace culture, policy and physical environment to make the hours at work less risky and healthier.

According to Professor Ann Roche, Director at NCETA, the most effective workplace drug and alcohol programs utilise both ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ approaches to provide a comprehensive, whole-of-workplace solution that both addresses risk factors and assists employees to seek help when needed.

“A top down approach refers to activities or strategies initiated by management and includes systemic, structural changes that have senior management support. One of the most important top down approaches is ensuring an appropriate workplace policy,” Prof Roche said.

“Other top down strategies might be designed to change the workplace culture in relation to alcohol and drugs.”

Meanwhile, a bottom up approach targets the individual behaviours of workers when it comes to the use of alcohol and other drugs.

“It includes approaches such as health promotion activities, health and wellbeing programs (targeted at individuals), stress management programs, and EAP counselling. Importantly, it also includes drug testing that is designed to identify individual workers and their use of specific substances,” Prof Roche said.

“Bottom up approaches can be effective as a form of primary prevention, that is, they can avert problems from occurring in the first place.

“Top down approaches are typically well resourced and are more likely to be maintained over a longer period of time after implementation. They are also more likely to be effective because management has a high level of control to make decisions about how the workplace operates.”

Implementing your own drug and alcohol training program

Businesses that are looking to establish AOD training sessions for their employees need to take a comprehensive, multi-staged approach that begins with an assessment of workplace needs.

According to Prof Roche, there are several factors that should be taken into consideration:

  • Nature of the workplace: This includes the type of industry and work involved, particularly the types of hazards that are present (for instance, heat, dust, noise levels, shift work, isolation, high levels of physically or mentally demanding work). Also consider the size of the organisation — is it large, medium or small?
  • Organisational readiness: Are there other organisational changes taking place — such as enterprise bargaining or restructuring — that will compete for time and resources?
  • Legislative requirements: Are there particular legislative requirements for the industry? For instance, construction, aviation, rail and road transport industries have specific requirements in addition to the general duties under work health and safety law.

“Programs are most effective when they are based on a policy that outlines its scope and includes specific objectives and strategies,” Prof Roche said.

“Roles and responsibilities must also be identified. In some industries like rail and road transport, testing is required under legislation. Where testing is used, a policy must address how the testing is conducted, the standards used and how positive results are managed. When developing a policy, it is essential to consult widely within the workplace, particularly with employees who will be covered by the policy.”

All workplaces can benefit from drug and alcohol training that is specifically tailored to meet the needs of that business. Despite this, training comprises only a small part of a wider comprehensive approach that needs to be based on solid and appropriate policy.

“Training on its own will be a limited and ultimately unsuccessful strategy,” Prof Roche said.

“The culture, policies and environment of a workplace can significantly affect worker health safety, productivity and workplace profitability. Workplace-based alcohol and drug initiatives have the potential to promote worker safety, health and wellbeing while offering substantial return on investment.”

Where training is undertaken, Prof Roche recommends that it should include:

  • information on the prevalence of risky alcohol and drug use
  • content and application of a tailored workplace policy
  • how to recognise and approach a colleague struggling with alcohol or drug use
  • where and how to seek help.

The most important aspects of any drug and alcohol program include a needs assessment, consultation and collaboration across all workers and unions, appropriate policy development and effective policy implementation and dissemination.

Image credit: ©

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