Prevention of alcohol and drugs use in the workplace

A consensual approach to workplace substance abuse: from rehabilitation to prevention

There is a long tradition of programmes to address the problem of substance abuse by workers. These have traditionally focused on the identification and rehabilitation of workers with severe alcohol and, more recently, drug abuse problems. However, as understanding of the sheer scope, nature and costs of the problem has deepened, more progressive enterprises, organizations and countries have placed a much greater emphasis on the development of broad consensual partnerships at the workplace and beyond designed to achieve a real improvement in the situation.

One of the chief problems in combating drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace and in society lies in the widespread acceptance of the social consumption of alcohol and, increasingly, drugs. The difficulties involved in developing a sound distinction between social drinking involving small quantities of alcohol and the very real dangers to health and safety of abusive consumption are well illustrated by the problems experienced in almost all countries in applying drinking and driving regulations. It is also very difficult in some wine- and beer-producing countries to dissuade workers, even in such inherently hazardous industries as transport and construction, from drinking wine or beer with their lunch.

In some countries there is a long tradition of social partners joining with other actors to develop joint drug and alcohol abuse prevention initiatives. They emphasize the benefits to workers, their families, employers and the economy of preventing addiction to drugs and alcohol. Participation and awareness among citizens and employers play a key part in these workplace alcohol and drug programmes.

Based on an increasingly widespread recognition of this successful experience with a consensual approach, the ILO adopted in 1995 its Code of practice on the management of alcohol- and drug-related issues in the workplace.