Drink and work – a dangerous cocktail

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date: 18 February 2003

embargo: 00.01hrs Thursday 20 February 2003

Attention: industrial, health and social affairs correspondents, health and safety media

People are drinking more now than ever before, but few employers have alcohol policies in place to tackle any problems arising from their employees' drinking habits, the TUC warns in a new report out today (Thursday).

The report, 'A potent cocktail', is the TUC's response to a wide-ranging trawl for ideas on how to tackle the issue of alcohol in the workplace, currently being undertaken by the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health.

To illustrate the extent of the problem, the TUC submission refers to a recent Alcohol Concern survey which showed that almost two-thirds of employers (60%) were experiencing problems as a result of staff boozing. A separate Chartered Institute of Personnel Development survey found that a large number of employers (43%) didn’t have alcohol policies and most (84%) didn't run health awareness programmes for their staff.

According to the TUC report, alcohol is a major factor behind absences from work with up to 14.8 million working days lost as a result of drinking every year. It is also estimated that long-term sickness, unemployment and premature death due to alcohol abuse costs the UK economy some £2.3 billion a year.

The TUC believes that not enough is understood about the effects of drink on the workplace, and it is calling on the government to fund more research into the growing problem. It also points to such workplace factors as stress, bullying and long hours, working away from home and the office culture which can all lead to individual workers consuming more alcohol than is good for them.

Unions are concerned that many employers are turning to companies which offer screening and random testing as a means of dealing with alcohol and the workplace. The TUC believes that these are never effective at keeping drink away from work, and they raise a number of privacy and human rights concerns.

TUC General Secretary Elect Brendan Barber said: "Drink is definitely a workplace issue. People who like the odd drink or two may think their drinking is under control, but their colleagues who have to cover for their 'duvet days' and long lunches might think otherwise. Drinkers are also risking serious damage to their health.

'It’s in everyone’s interest that we tackle the UK’s growing drink problem. The TUC would like to see the government, unions and employers all coming together to deal with the issue in a sensitive and understanding way.'

'A potent cocktail' suggests a number of ways that the government, employers and unions might tackle the drink/work issue:

  • The government should fund research looking at the extent of the misuse of alcohol by individuals at work, its effect on the workplace and its cost to the nation. The government could also offer financial incentives to those employers currently offering counselling and other types of employee assistance programmes to encourage more workers to come forward and admit their alcohol problems.
  • Employers who don’t have alcohol policies should draw them up in consultation with unions in the workplace. Policies should cover such topics as tackling the causes of excessive drinking, confidentiality, counselling, screening, testing and occupational health services.
  • Unions can play their part by training and providing information to union reps on dealing with workplace alcohol issues, and by helping those members trying to deal with their drink problems through rehabilitation schemes.

Notes to Editors:

All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

Register for the TUC's press extranet: a service exclusive to journalists wanting to access

pre-embargo releases and reports from the TUC. Visit www.tuc.org.uk/pressextranet

A series of TUC rights leaflets are available on our website and from the know your rights line 0870 600 4 882. Lines are open every day from 8am-10pm. Calls are charged at the national rate.

Contacts:

Media enquiries: Liz Chinchen on 020 7467 1248 or 07699 744115 (pager) or email media@tuc.org.uk

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