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Saturday, February 4, 2023

With festivities under way, exercise caution with alcohol and substance use

The law on intoxicating substances in the workplace is clear. However, there are several do’s and don’ts that must be kept in mind. Employers must ensure that they do not allow entry to the workplace if an individual is intoxicated, whether under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

People will start to relax as the holiday season approaches, which means some will engage in drinking activities and possibly use drugs. However, it’s crucial to exercise caution and vigilance right now.

The danger of alcohol in the workplace

Rhys Evans, managing director at ALCO-Safe advises the following precautions: Employees that report for duty under the influence of alcohol pose a serious risk to themselves, their co-workers, and their employer. Alcohol consumption impairs speech, coordination, and reaction time, which makes operating machinery or operating a vehicle exceedingly dangerous.

According to the South African Labour Guide, employees under the influence of alcohol are responsible for 20% to 25% of workplace injuries.

The employer’s duty

Communicate substance abuse policy, reputable testing equipment, and clearly defined procedures are crucial. It’s important to buy breathalysers and drug tests from reputable retailers.

The implementation of occupational health and safety regulations must begin with a clearly defined policy that outlines the organisation’s stance on alcohol and other intoxicating substances. Such a policy must stipulate how often – either randomly or routinely – personnel will be checked for substances.

The repercussions of breaking workplace rules must be made apparent from a disciplinary standpoint, especially in high-risk industries like mining where industry-specific legislation adopts a zero-tolerance policy and considers intoxication a dismissible violation.

Employers with a zero-tolerance alcohol policy must inform staff members of the repercussions of disobeying it. There must be no opportunity for misinterpretation in laws prohibiting alcohol consumption. No one is permitted to report for duty or be at work while intoxicated (or under the influence).

As a result, employers must exercise caution when making accusations against staff members who break the regulations. An employee can be accurately penalised and fired by their employment contract if they arrive or report for duty with more than 0% alcohol in their blood by specifying their zero-tolerance policy.

It is crucial to recognise those workplace policies and testing are perfectly legal for companies to enact and enforce. This goes for both employers and employees. In other words, if a drug or alcohol test is administered in compliance with business policy, an employee does not have the right to object or question the fairness of the test.

Picture by Hernán Toro /Pexels

Even though cannabis usage in a person’s private life has been decriminalised by the Constitutional Court, this is not an excuse for disregarding corporate policies that demand a clean test result for illegal substances. It makes no difference if a person is intoxicated or not when they test positive for a chemical (such as the cannabinoid THC). Compliance with corporate policies is crucial.

Read the latest issue of IOL Health digital magazine here.

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