An updated briefing from the the British Medical Assocation (BMA) provides guidance for medical and other professionals on addressing alcohol and drug use in the workplace, including guidance on supporting or recruiting employees with histories of substance misuse.
See the BMA webpage or 'Alcohol, drugs and the workplace – The role of medical professionals' [pdf] briefing.
Primarily written to provide practical advice to help medical professionals in supporting both workers and employers to address the use of alcohol and illicit drugs, the guidance also reviews the context of substance use within the workplace. Indeed alcohol misuse has a significant effect on UK productivity through issues such as sickness-related absence, inappropriate behaviour, accidents and poor performance, as well as shorter working lives. The cost has been estimated at £7 billion a year, a sizeable chunk of the estimated £21 billion total cost to society.
The briefing offers detailed guidance for employers including legal duties and best practice approaches to preventing and dealing with substance problems. It also explains what employees should expect from their organisation, and comprehensively details how medical professionalls within or supporting workplaces should address substance issues. Guidance on screening and testing is also covered.
Furhermore, as a second edition chapter 9 has been added in response to a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) review into how to get benefit claimants with addictions back into work. The review, headed by Dame Carol Black, was announced last year to facilitate medical help for what it described as 'long-term, treatable issues' including alcohol dependency, drug addiction and obesity. The DWP reported 1 in 15 working age benefit claimants are 'suffering from alcohol dependency'; around 170,000 people.
The BMA committee’s chairman, Dr Paul Nicholson, told Personal Today that the new chapter:
"...reinforces the message that health professionals have a responsibility to challenge negative stereotypes and help employers understand that people who have a history of alcohol problems, and who have successfully taken part in a treatment programme, can still be successfully employed. So it is about getting around that stigma."
Addresing alcohol and the workplace - a tough nut to crack?
Efforts to penetrate the workplace with preventative wellbeing approaches and alcohol interventions are being undertaken by various organisations and initiatives.
Llast year the British Heart Foundation (BHF) produced a 'Health at work guide to alcohol' encouraging organisations to assess alcohol-related need and develop policy and awareness raising activities. The Alcohol Health Network was set up initially to improve alcohol-related health in the workplace whilst other organisations, including Alcohol Concern, have also sought to develop alcohol workplace programmes.
A 2011 research project into the feasibility of alcohol brief interventions (or 'IBA') in the workplace has shown that some opportunities to deliver IBA do exist - though may have limitations and are not without barriers. The project concluded with a briefing paper on alcohol & the workplace, but more recently the development of digitial and web-based interventions have been embraced as a way of addressing many of the challenges such as confidentiality or role appropriateness. An NHS Workplace Wellbeing Charter includes alcohol components. Indeed those that are taking a broader 'health and wellbeing' approach may find more success.