Intoxicants In The Workplace

Author:Ms Siobhra Rush


The proposal to ban sponsorship of sporting events by alcoholic beverage companies signals that the continuing debate on problems with alcohol and drugs in Ireland is still at the fore. Aside from considerations of how alcohol and drugs affect the social side of life, what about the risks they pose when used in the workplace (or when they have been used socially but their after-effects still pose a risk)? Should the government now review the decision, confirmed by the Health and Safety Authority ('HSA'), not to enact regulations or a code of practice for employers on testing for intoxicants in the workplace?

Being under the influence of an intoxicant in the workplace can lead to accidents, poor performance and behavioural difficulties, and is traditionally dealt with by employers as a disciplinary issue. However, since employees have a statutory obligation not to attend work under the influence and employers have a statutory obligation to take all reasonable steps to eliminate or reduce risks of unsafe work environments, to include risks created by employee substance abuse, statutory authority permitting employers to test employees to test for intoxicants may be merited.

When the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (the "2005 Act"), was enacted, the provision requiring submission by employees for appropriate tests for intoxicants1 was a welcome support for employers to deal with this issue. There were concerns raised by a number of bodies such as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, that the section as drafted was too broad and could be subject to abuse, and also that imposition of statutory testing would infringe basic rights of privacy2. As such, the relevant provisions for the 2005 Act are still not in force, and can only be brought into force by the enactment of Regulations, which have not been forthcoming. The National Advisory Committee on Drugs recommends that testing in the workplace should result from reasonable cause, post-accident or random, as part of an agreed policy3.

General Statutory Obligations

Employees' Obligations

The 2005 Act4 requires employees to comply with all relevant statutory provisions and to take reasonable care to protect themselves and others in the workplace. More specifically, an employee must not be under the influence of an intoxicant to the extent that it affects his/her health and safety5, or that of any other person. Intoxicants are defined in the 2005 Act as including alcohol...

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