Revelations that former prime minister Tony Abbott once passed out drunk and missed a key parliamentary vote has highlighted the issue of drugs and alcohol in the workplace.
Mr Abbott admitted to the ABC of consuming an excessive amount of alcohol in the Members Only dining room in Parliament, before falling asleep on a couch in his office and missing an important parliamentary vote.
“There was one famous occasion when Peter Costello, Kevin Andrews and I hung out rather a long time here,” news.com.au quoted him as saying.
“I think quite a few bottles of wine were consumed by the three of us.
“I think I famously slept through several divisions,” he said, confirming that he could not be roused.
In many Australian workplaces, employees face instant dismissal for being intoxicated while on-site or while performing work duties, given the significant risks to occupational health and safety.
For some industries, including aviation, maritime and mining, drug and alcohol testing is compulsory. BridgeClimb Sydney even breath tests its customers as a means of maintaining the strictest safety standards.
“Alcohol and other drug related problems can occur in any workplace,” SafeWork NSW states in its guide, Alcohol and Other Drugs in the Workplace.
“The impairment of behaviour can cause affected employees to injure themselves or others. Workmates are often placed in the uncomfortable position of feeling obligated to cover for poor work performance, or ‘to dob’ in a mate for their own good. Employers may be faced with lateness, inefficiency and absenteeism, lost time and production from dangerous incidents and damage to plant, equipment and other property.”
According to SME specialist lawyer Mark Gardiner of Teddington Legal, having a drug and alcohol policy in place can save both employers and their workforce a great deal of expense and stress down the line.
“There is no requirement to have a drug and alcohol policy, but it is certainly a good idea,” he told My Business.
“Ensuring that there are well-written policies and procedures in place can help protect employers from lengthy and expensive litigation.”
Mr Gardiner added that employers have not only a right but an obligation to “minimise the risk that employees might come to work impaired by alcohol or drugs such that they could pose a risk to health and safety of themselves or others”.
Ironically, Mr Abbott’s revelation comes at the same time the government is trying to force drug testing on welfare recipients.