The $6 billion issue: how safe is your workplace from the risk of drugs and alcohol misuse?

Australian organisations are increasingly impacted by drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace, with the Australian Drug Foundation noting that ‘alcohol and drug misuse costs Australian businesses over $6 billion annually.’ Additionally, it can indirectly cause workplace bullying, harassment, mental health issues, diminished workplace culture and inappropriate behaviour.


In order to mitigate the various organisational risks and fulfil its duty of care obligations, employers must ensure clear and rigorous policies are in place, and adequate education and training is provided to clearly communicate the expectations, processes and protocol to be followed by all staff. 

John Boardman, the Director of Workplace Relations at iHR Australia discusses the importance and requirements involved in setting a strong Drug and Alcohol Policy:

The importance of a Drug and Alcohol Policy

Employers have an obligation under WHS legislation to provide a safe working environment. Employers who do not take reasonable steps to identify risk and put risk control measures in place may well be found to be liable for any resultant injury and face stiff fines, and in some cases even criminal charges.

What happens if a good policy is not in place?

A lack of good policy direction can result in confusion regarding the rights and responsibilities of employees and their line managers. Sound policy guidance and associated training provide evidence that an employer has taken all reasonable steps to detect and manage workplace risk, and may prevent serious injury and/or property loss. A lack of safe work practice can also inflict irreparable damage to an organisation’s reputation as a good supplier, contractor or employer of choice. It is frequently a condition of tender that organisations have well developed Drug and Alcohol policies in place.

What is required in setting the Policy?

The organisational policy establishes standards of behaviour and, in the case of Drug and Alcohol usage, can vary from responsible use to zero tolerance. The policy may specify threshold levels and/or more general obligations such as not being ‘under the influence’ while at the workplace. Australian Standards assist in the establishment of policy definitions and testing procedures (e.g. AS 4760 – Procedures for specimen collection and the detection and quantitation of drugs in oral fluid).

The policy should provide definitions for the term “Drug”. Does this include prescription drugs or does the policy only apply to illicit drugs? In relation to illicit drugs – what does this mean? Recreational drugs now include synthetic cannabinolds such as Kronic, Kalma, Voodoo Kaos and Mango Kush just to mention a few popular brands which might not be illegal depending on the jurisdiction.

If you drug test your employees, the policy should establish processes and protocols for testing. This might involve external authorities or otherwise testing by authorised personnel. Policies can determine whether testing is performed based on a reasonable cause basis, or in the case of high risk industries – random testing of all employees or unannounced blanket testing. Testing may also include self-testing stations. The policy should also specify the type of testing to be performed i.e. saliva testing or urine sampling, or a combination of both. Considerable argument over the past several years has occurred both before the Fair Work Commission and the Federal Court of Australia in relation to these matters.

The policy might establish what steps are to be taken if an employee returns a positive test. Access to counselling and rehabilitation services is required if users are not to be driven ‘underground’. “The lack of a sound policy and procedure including associated training can only be described as reckless,” Mr Boardman said.


ADF Aware – by Australian Drug Foundation 

The impact of drug and alcohol misuse on workplaces is a matter the Australian Drug Foundation (ADF) takes seriously. In a collaborative project with the World Learning Hub, ADF have created an online awareness and education tool which directly addresses the issue of drugs and alcohol misuse in the workplace, utilising engaging real-to-life 3D animation and highly interactive Q&A segments. The learning module is part of what ADF knows is the most effective way to combat the risks of drugs and alcohol in the workplace – a committed combination of policy, communication and training. 

The ADF Aware online program takes only 20 minutes to complete, can be hosted on either the ADF’s or your own Learning Management System, and can be delivered to an unlimited number of participants. 

ADF Aware will be launched from June 2015 with a special introductory offer of only $495 per annum per organisation. To find out more about the program for your workplace, please contact


Recent articles

Balance of probailities

Understanding Balance of Probabilities in Workplace Investigations

Author - John Boardman, Director Workplace Relations The more serious the allegation, the more serious consideration should be given by...
Remote or isolated work

The impact of poor support on remote and isolated workers: Summary of the webinar

Remote and isolated work encompasses more than just working in a home setting; it taps into the narrative of employees...
Reasonable management.

What isn’t Workplace Bullying? Reasonable Management.

Article updated on 15 April 2024 [Originally published in 2017] Workplace bullying is an organisational problem. It can happen in...
Trauma informed investigations

Trauma-informed workplace investigations: Prioritising ‘care’ over rigid processes

Interviewee: Kirsten Hartmann, Senior Workplace Relations Adviser/Workplace Investigator In August 2023, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) released four guiding...