Substance use during the holidays

8th December 2021

Seasonal holidays can often create stressors, social influences, environmental factors, and other challenges for people. Sometimes, these can bring on alcohol and/or drug use.

The consumption, use, and abuse of alcohol or drugs pose huge safety risks for the construction industry, where the slightest lapse in focus could result in a life-threatening accident, particularly when working in an environment where heavy machinery and vehicles are used.

Workers may use alcohol and/or drugs and develop an addiction due to a variety of reasons, including social pressures to use alcohol or drugs, easy access to alcohol, isolation from social settings, stress (whether from home, workplace, or both), work overload, family difficulties, isolation from families and loneliness.

At times, these associated problems that come with drinking or taking drugs to excess can extend to the workplace. Employees who abuse alcohol or drugs are more likely to become absent from work, display poor performance and/or have an increased risk of accidents.

Maintaining a safe working environment is of utmost importance for any employer; this not only applies to the workforce but also to the surrounding public and anybody else who may be affected.

If you’re unsure of whether drugs or alcohol are present within your business, or to what extent they’re being used, you may find it useful to understand some signs of alcohol and drug misuse:

  • Sudden mood changes
  • Unusual irritability or aggression
  • A tendency to become confused
  • Abnormal fluctuations in concentration and energy
  • Impaired job performance
  • Poor timekeeping
  • Increased short-term sickness absence
  • A deterioration in relationships with colleagues, customers, or management
  • Dishonesty and/or theft (arising from the need to maintain an expensive habit)

The signs shown above should be regarded only as indications that an employee may be misusing alcohol or drugs. A table showing the most misused substances by adults in the UK can be found on our website:

Your legal responsibility

You have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSW Act) to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety, and welfare at work of your employees. You also have a duty under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, to assess the risks to the health and safety of your employees. If you knowingly allow an employee under the influence of drug misuse to continue working and his or her behaviour places the employee or others at risk, you could be prosecuted. Similarly, your employees are also required to take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by what they do at work.