Recently, media reports have been published regarding Southern Water in Tasmania and union resistance to 0.00% in their new alcohol policy.
The claims of their union members (Australian Services Union) include that a 0.00% places responsibility on employees which is “above the law”.
A quote from the ASU website goes on to say 0.00% is “unworkable, unreasonable and goes beyond the accepted legal and community standard of 0.05%”.
If we look at other successful alcohol and drug policies, procedures and testing programs we can consider the evidence rather than just opinion regarding 0.00% vs 0.05%…
In my experience the majority of other workplaces in Australia who have implemented an alcohol & other drug policy – do embrace 0.00% for alcohol or at least 0.02% – and they do work!
How else can we manage the alcohol risk?
There are a variety of solutions available to balance out what is fair and what is safe in a particular workplace. These include:
- Setting the alcohol limit at the higher level of 0.05%. (This one requires careful consideration of risk profile for the type of workplace involved)
- Including a 0.02% limit without disciplinary action being taken.
- Allowing for up to 3 strikes.
- Allowing breaches to be struck from the record after a specified period of time has elapsed.
As you may now have already perceived from the above points, the extent to which an alcohol policy is “draconian” or oppressive depends not just upon the level of the alcohol limit, but on a full set of factors with which to manage risk. These can be summarised as:
- The alcohol limit.
- The number of “strikes” under the policy.
- The style of disciplinary process itself.
By isolating the issue to just one of the above, such as whether the alcohol limit should be 0.00% or 0.05% you only consider part of the risk management and safety equation.
The better approach is to use all of the above factors in combination with each other. It is then far easier to find that balance of what is fair, what is safe and what is workable.
What about comparing the workplace to the public roads?
I do not believe we should compare the workplace to the public roads for a number of reasons. These include:
- At 0.05% you are at least twice as likely, ie 100% more likely to have an accident (refer to graph below). Is this really acceptable at work?
- It is fair & reasonable to seek a higher level of co-operation and compliance among employees (than the general public). In addition you have a captive audience to properly educate and support. You cannot provide the same level of education or support to the general public.
- It is far easier to manage and “police” alcohol in a workplace – than it is on the public roads.
- Consider the road toll for a moment where alcohol is a factor. It appears the level of alcohol limits being greater on the road results in more deaths than in the workplace. Could alcohol related deaths on the road be reduced with a 0.00% limit being applied? Logic suggests the answer is YES since more would exclude driving after drinking in the first place. However, the resources to police a zero limit are simply not available.
Summing it all up.
There is no one size fits all approach for workplaces which vary in their requirements for management of alcohol (or other drug) risk.
A workable alcohol & other drug policy indeed must balance fairness with safety and legislative obligations.
Sometimes the best intentions of unions, employees and other interest groups may be misguided because they do not consider the whole picture in its entirety or they simply do not have the experience required to be drawing conclusions on these issues.
It is hoped that some of the information in the above article assists the reader in making a more informed and balanced decision when it comes to alcohol limits in the workplace.