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Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 13:31 GMT


Working under the influence

Drink and drugs are a growing problem in the workplace

Drink and drug abuse among the workforce is increasing, but employees are more likely to report colleagues than in the past, according to a survey.

The Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD) says a survey of 1,800 personnel workers found that alcohol-related problems had risen by 11% on 1996 and reports of illegal drug taking had risen by 3%.

Just under a half of all firms surveyed had experience of workers who had alcohol problems.

Eighteen per cent reported problems with employees who took illegal drugs.

Most managers found out about drug and alcohol abuse through deteriorating work performance.

But the number of employees prepared to report their colleagues to managers is rising.

Over 70% of managers found out about drug and alcohol problems as a result of deteriorating work performance and reports from colleagues.

A handful of companies discovered the problem through random testing.

Tests for alcohol were over three times more common than those for illegal drugs. The IPD says random testing is rare and usually confined to oil and transport firms where safety is a strong factor and Anglo-US companies.

In the US, testing is more common, but it is very expensive. The IPD says education and awareness raising are better ways of dealing with the problem.

Treatment programmes

It believes the increase in reporting of cases is due to a combination of factors, including growing awareness of the problem, due to campaigns such as the drink driving adverts, as well as more stress in the workplace.

But the IPD adds that few firms have policies for dealing with drink and drugs.

Over a third of firms had no alcohol policy and almost half did not have a drug policy.

Those that do have a policy on alcohol use include Marks and Spencer, British Rail and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The IPD says very few firms run programmes on alcohol and drug awareness for staff.

And around 80% managers did not receive training in spotting the signs of abuse.

IPD policy officer Oonagh Ryden said: "The IPD urges employers to develop policies that address alcohol and drug use among their employees."

She said policies should include information about the health and safety effects of abusing drugs and alcohol, the need for confidentiality in dealing with any problems and the precise way the company would deal with a report of misuse.

She added that the problems should be treated as a sickness and staff should be encouraged to come forward at an early stage so they could get treatment.

The IPD, which is producing a factsheet on training and tell-tale signs of misuse, also wants firms to begin education programmes about the health and safety effects of abusing drugs and alcohol.

The Trades Union Congress says drug and alcohol problems cost the UK £5bn a year in lost working time and production as well as NHS costs.

It believes the growing problem is due in part to stress, citing a survey which showed 9% more health and safety officers saw stress as a major problem in 1998 than in 1996.

TUC health and safety officer Tom Mellish said companies should look at whether their working practices were making stress worse.

Under the influence

Drink and drug misuse can affect work performance as well as safety, attendance and relationships between staff.

[ image: Up to 25% of workers worldwide may have a drink problem]
Up to 25% of workers worldwide may have a drink problem
The International Labour Organisation says up to 5% of the working population is estimated to have an alcohol problem and 25% are at risk of becoming dependent on drink.

In the UK, women workers are more likely to have an alcohol problem than men.

However, men are more likely to turn to drink because of stress at work than women, according to the Institute of Alcohol Studies.

People in professions like journalism, the military, hotel and catering and the shipping industry have a higher tendency to drink problems than those in other lines of work.

This is thought to be because of availability of alcohol, social pressure and lack of supervision.

One in 12 doctors is thought to have a drug or alcohol problem.

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