Policies, not testing, key to cutting $8bn workplace drug and alcohol bill

Ken Pidd_FlindersWP
Dr Ken Pidd, who is Deputy Director of Flinders University’s National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction, analysed information on more than 15,000 Australians.

Workplace drug and alcohol policies work, comprehensive policies really work – but mandatory testing alone doesn’t.

Those are the findings of new Flinders University National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) research into how well Australian workplaces are dealing with drug and alcohol misuse.

But while policies were found to be effective, The NCETA paper, being published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, found almost a third of businesses had none in place.

It’s been estimated that employee alcohol and other illicit drug use costs Australian businesses more than $8.9bn a year in lost productivity (Collins and Lapsey 2008).

The paper’s lead author, NCETA’s Dr Ken Pidd, who examined information on 13,590 employed Australians from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey, said that even simple policies were associated with significantly decreased odds of high risk drinking.

“There is growing interest in workplace policies as a strategy to prevent ormanage alcohol and other drug (AOD) problems, and this research demonstrates, for the first time, that workplace policies are associated with lower levels of risky alcohol and drug use among employed Australians,” said Dr Pidd.

“We conducted a secondary analysis of the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey and explored the prevalence of AOD policies and their relationship with health behaviours.

“In terms of specific policy types, policies on ‘use’ and ‘use plus assistance’ were associated with significantly decreased odds of high risk drinking, while ‘comprehensive’ policies were associated with significantly decreased odds of drug use.

“Participants were asked to indicate from 10 multiple response options which drug and alcohol policies their employers had in place, and to indicate frequency of use of various substances in the last 12 months.

“After controlling for demographic characteristics, having any AOD policy in place was associated with significantly decreased odds of high risk compared to low risk drinking, but did not significantly predict drinking at risky levels or drug use.”

Dr Pidd said that one of the specific findings about which policies actually worked was particularly relevant for small businesses.

“Only two types of policy were found to be significantly associated with reduced alcohol consumption: ‘use’ and ‘use plus assistance’. That is, policies addressing AOD use at work and the provision of information, education, and/or assistance regarding AOD may effectively prevent/reduce high risk alcohol consumption,” said Dr Pidd.

“This is an important finding for smaller organisations which may not have the resources to implement comprehensive policies, but may be able to readily introduce simple but effective AOD use policies.”

Because ‘use’ and ‘use plus assistance’ were the most common types of policy reported by participants, Dr Pidd said many Australian organisations are already taking promising steps towards minimising high risk alcohol consumption among employees.

The study found inconsistent relationships between the existence of AOD policies and prevalence of risky alcohol or drug use by workers within industry groups.

Mining was in the top 10 per cent of risky and high risk drinking, and also in the top 10 per cent of policy prevalence. However, construction, accommodation and food services, and agriculture, forestry and fishing demonstrated high rates of substance use but only moderate-low levels of policy implementation.

By contrast, utilities had very high policy implementation but lower rates of substance use.

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