EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Germany: EWCO CAR on Use of Alcohol/Drugs at the Workplace

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  • Published on: 07 May 2012

Birgit Kraemer

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

There is no statistical data showing the development of drug abuse at the workplace in Germany. The debate on alcohol or drug abuse by employees is less vital than ten years ago. In the 2000s, guidelines on voluntary quality standards of prevention were set. Apart from the transport sector, alcohol/drug use at work is not prohibited by law, but is to be regulated by management and by works agreements. A regulation by employers’ assurance associations stipulates that regular testing by company medical officers should be carried out in the case of employees involved in driving, steering and surveilling tasks. In practice, there is indication of a grey area of pre-employment testing. Guidelines on voluntary quality standards of prevention were set in the 2000s. Respective programmes are provided by health insurers.


Block 1: Main sources of information dealing with the issue of alcohol/drug use at the workplace at national level and its relation to working conditions, etc.

1.1 Are there national statistical sources (surveys, administrative registers including company reports as surveys / reports from the Labour Inspectorate, Labour doctors, etc) that provide information on the issue of alcohol/drug use at the workplace in your country? If so, identify them and explain their characteristics and methodology. Please refer both to general population health surveys/sources or general alcohol/drug use surveys/sources as to working conditions or workplace specific surveys/sources

Funded by the Federal Health Ministry, the Epidemiological Survey on Substance Abuse (ESA) covers drug addictions of the general population and of specific target groups. Various other surveys are conducted at federal state level (see German report to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions). However, none of these investigates drug abuse at the workplace. There are no national statistical sources on this subject. Despite of this, the 2011 report on drug and addictions (Drogen- und Suchtbericht) by the Federal Government Commissioner on Narcotic Drugs (Drogenbeauftragte des Bundes) gives figures on employees’ alcohol and medical drug use. The report gives no references. According to the Commissioner’s Office, the figures stem from a 2002 publication by H. Honsa. Honsa gives a 2000 press release of the Federal Health Ministry for reference. The Health Ministry does not verify this source.

1.2. Are there any other sources of information (published after mid-2000s) that may provide valuable information on the issue (i.e. ad-hoc studies, sectoral studies, administrative reports, articles, published case studies, etc). If so, identify and describe them.

Compared to the late 1990s/early 2000s the number of academic research studies on alcohol/drug abuse at the workplace has substantially decreased, whereas there has been a growth of popular literature on drug abuse prevention. It is also to be noted that academic research does not focus on alcohol and drug addiction alone, but also addresses new addictions such as work addiction, internet addiction or medical drug addiction at the workplace.

In addressing alcohol use, a qualitative research project, such as the one carried out at Hannover University is a rare exception. The project findings revealed that highly skilled female professionals and managers are at risk of alcohol abuse as a compensation for work-related stress.

By definition, this study shall exclude the abuse of medical drugs. Yet, prescriptive drug use became an issue of expert debate when in 2009 first survey findings were published by the health insurer DAK (DAK Gesundheitsreport 2009). A representative sample of 3,000 employees aged 20 to 50 years had been surveyed. Findings indicated a low prevalence of medical drug abuse (2%), but also showed that 29% of those saying they worked under high stress levels basically approved medical drug use for brain boosting. Subsequently, brain boosting at the workplace was taken up by a workshop (Starnberger Suchtgespräche) and documented in a 2011 compilation edited by Giesert/Wendt-Danigel..

Block 2: Information on the extent of the use of alcohol and drugs at the workplace in your country, as well as the type of situations (sectors, occupations, working conditions, etc.) in which this use occurs, its consequences (production process, social relations at work) and the rationale behind it

2.1. Please provide the available data and information on the prevalence of drug/alcohol use at the workplace in your country, if possible differentiating data by:

  • Type of substance

  • Sectors => specific focus on the construction and transport sectors

  • Occupational profiles

  • Other relevant variables

The 2011 report by the Federal Commissioner on Narcotic Drugs gives estimations saying that about 10% of dependent workers abuse drugs and 5% are drug dependent. As mentioned above, these figures cannot be verified.

Please note that any data given in the literature does not rest on post-mid-2000s studies or surveys. Data based on company surveys all stem from the late 1990s and early 2000s. Due to a spread of prevention measures and to changes in working conditions, it is questionable that ‘old’ figures are indicative for the current state of affairs.

The Federal Centre for Health Education (Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung, BzgA) regularly publishes survey findings (representative telephone-based surveys) on drug use by young persons aged 15 to 25 years which differentiate between pupils, students, trainees, young employees and young unemployed. These surveys do not cover drug use at the workplace, however. Findings indicate that young persons in initial vocational training and in employment consume cannabis less often than high school students (Report on cannabis use 2010) and consume alcohol less often than university students and young unemployed persons (Report on alcohol use 2010).

2.2. Please provide data and information on the rationale and consequences of drug/alcohol use at work. Focus on construction, transport:

Reasons for consuming alcohol/drugs

  • Use of drugs related to certain working conditions (e.g. alcohol when working in cold / warm environments; stimulants when working at high rhythm, etc…)

  • Accessibility/availability

Again, almost all information is from the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2003, W. Puls’ habilitation thesis on working conditions, stress and drug use was published which came out of a project funded by the Federal Research Ministry. The study takes special account of job insecurity as stress factor. Based on surveys in public administration and metal working companies, Puls argues that the effort-reward imbalance at work impacts on alcohol use and should be considered in prevention. Yet, he also points at the influence of personality traits. A 2005 company case study by Puls a.o. indicates the importance of the expectation of tension reduction in the maintenance of alcohol use/abuse among employed adults. Plans for establishing a research unit on working conditions and drug use at University Muenster failed because of funding.

A 2006 PhD thesis by M. Ennenbach investigates drug addictions of hospital staff. The survey findings indicate gender and age differences in the risk of drug abuse - young female staff is most at risk. Yet job satisfaction is shown to have no impact on drug/alcohol use, whereas satisfaction with life and health/body do have an effect.

There are no new academic studies.

Company-based health risk analyses and reports by company physicians and labour inspectors rest on standardized questionnaires which do not deal with the rationale of drug use.

Consequences of consuming alcohol/drugs

  • working conditions affected by drug use (risk increase, accidents, absenteeism, sick leave…):

  • Accidents and fatalities due to alcohol/drug use

The 2011 report by the Federal Drug Commissioner cites unknown sources saying that 10%-15% of all accidents at work are caused by drug abuse. However, the German Social Accident Insurance (Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallsversicherung, DGUV) does not know of any such statistical data.

According to the Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt, destatis), in 2005 drunken drivers of goods/motor vehicles made up a share of 6.2% of all drunken persons involved in road accidents: by 2009, the share stood at 5.8%. Misconduct by professional drivers had caused an accident in 25,264 cases; of these 418 cases (1.6%) were due to alcohol abuse.

  • Sick leave attributed to alcohol/drugs, absenteeism

The annual reports by health insurer BKK (Betriebskrankenkasse, BKK) give yearly data on sick leave caused by mental and behavioural disorders due to psychoactive substances. This data, which is not representative of the working population, indicates a significant difference in substance dependence according to gender. In 2008, about 7% of all days of absence of men and about 3% of all days of absence of women were caused by drug abuse. Yearly data includes unemployed persons.

Table 1 Mental and behavioural disorders due to psychoactive substances (F 10-F19, ICD) as share of all sickness leave, 2008 BKK data
The table indicates that the share of cases of sickness leave because of psychoactive substances was below % of all cases of sickness leave

As % share of BKK insured (excluding retired persons)

































Notes: Data includes unemployed persons, excludes retired persons

Source: BKK Gesundheitsreport 2008, 2009, 2010

  • Assessment of costs

  • Use of alcohol/drugs negatively affecting other working conditions:

  • Uneven workload distribution…

  • Work organisation

  • working environment (deteriorated social relations at work, higher number of conflicts…)

There is no sectoral data to answer this question.

Block 3: Identify legislation and agreements at national level concerning alcohol/drugs use at the workplace, specifically those related to testing practices

3.1. Please identify and describe the main existing legislation and agreements concerning the prohibition/limitation of alcohol/drug use at work:

  • Is there any legislation or agreement specifically intended to prohibit or limit alcohol/drug use at work? Please describe:

  • Type of legislation / agreement (Government or parliament laws, agreements from social dialogue, from the Governments and social partners, from other organisations, etc.)

  • Contents, stipulations

  • Collectives affected

Alcohol/drug use at work is not prohibited or restricted by law as, generally speaking, drug/alcohol use is considered to be an internal issue of a company and under the Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz, BetrVG) is to be regulated by management and works council (via works agreements, see below). The transport sector is the only exception to the rule (see below).

Under the terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Arbeitsschutzgesetz, ArbSchG), when delegating a work task, the employer has to decide whether an employee is able to perform the task without posing a risk to him/herself or to others. The employer may not delegate a task if the worker does not seem to be in a position to carry it out. The decision has to take accident prevention regulations into account, which, under the Social Security Code VII (Sozialgesetzbuch, SGB), are set by the statutory accident insurers. A 1993 occupational health prevention regulation by the employers’ assurance liability associations (Berufsgenossenschaften, BG) stipulates for testing in case of driving, steering or surveilling/monitoring tasks (see below)(BGV A4, Appendix 1 G25).

According to accident regulation BGV A1, the insured (employee) is prohibited from consuming addictive substances up to a point that he/she will pose a risk to him/herself or to others.

  • Is there any sectoral legislation or agreement with the same purpose? Please focus on the construction and transport sectors.

The construction sector is covered by the legislation mentioned above.

The transport sector is the exception to this rule. Statutory road, maritime and flight traffic regulations

- prohibit any use of alcohol (0.0 mg/ml blood alcohol content) or of other substances which may impact on the working task before or during work in case of

- road passenger transport (taxi driving, busses, subways, etc.)

- railroad passenger and goods transport

- flight traffic

- any transport of dangerous goods

- novice drivers and young drivers up to 21 years of age

- sets a legal maximum blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.5 mg/ml

- for professional drivers (road transport),

- for drivers and active staff members in inland waterways transport

- for drivers and staff in maritime traffic.

3.2 Specific focus on legislation / agreements regarding testing practices intended to control the use of alcohol/drugs at work. Please consider questions such us:

  • how are the tests regulated (agreements / legislation or are there guidelines)?

  • what type/forms of tests – testing methods and for what type of substances?

  • who can ask for tests, on who's initiative are tests initiated? for what purpose/reasons?

  • is the consent of the person to be tested needed?

  • is pre-employment testing (before work contract signing) allowed? can tests be included as a clause in work contracts?

  • by whom are the tests undertaken? are tests limited to safety sensitive positions or specific sectors (transport, etc.) or are they overall?

  • when, at what moment can tests be undertaken?

  • What are the necessary established pre-conditions for proceeding for a test?

  • what are the conditions/rules/procedure under which tests can be undertaken? what is the role of the labour doctor and labour inspectorate in testing?

  • To whom will the results be communicated and under what reporting form/

  • who has access to the results of the tests?

  • what can be the consequences of positive results on the work contractual relation?

In general, testing practices are regulated by the 2008 Regulation on Occupational Health Prevention (Arbeitsmedizinische Vorsorgeverordnung, ArbMedVV) which differentiates between 1. binding testing practice, 2. voluntary testing and 3. testing on demand. Under 1. employers must arrange for testing on a regular basis in the event of the work involving defined risky substances. Under 2., the employer must offer testing to the employee in the event of workplace-related health risks. In both cases, the employee may reject testing (which, in practice, involves the risk of job loss). Under 3, the employees may demand a test.

As ArbMedVV does not explicitly cover workplace-related health risks because of individual preconditions (psychic, physic (fatigue), drug consumption, etc.) a 1993 occupational health prevention regulation by the Berufsgenossenschaften is still in place which stipulates for testing in case of risky tasks such as driving, steering or surveilling/monitoring (BGV A4, Appendix 1 G25). According to BGV A4, G25, testing must be conducted by a company medical officer after job entry before a novice employee performs the work task for the first time; testing is to be repeated every three to five years (workers up to 40 years), every two to three years (workers of 40 to 60 years) and within two years time (workers older than 60 years). Measures are not specified; testing typically involves eye, urine and blood tests.

In case of professional drivers (trucks, busses, taxis) aged 50 years or older, the driving licence regulation (Fahrerlaubnisverordnung, FeV) stipulates that an additional medical screening must be carried out every five years.

According to the Youth Worker Protection Act (Jugendarbeitsschutzgesetz, JArbSchG) young applicants for an initial vocational training position (up to 18 years) have to provide medical testing results to the employer showing that they physically comply to workplace demands; a follow-up testing is required after about a year. Depending on the employer these tests may or may not involve drug tests. Trainees can reject drug testing (at the risk of losing employment).

According to ArbMedVV, the employer has to store testing results up to the end of the employment of the worker and to delete data afterwards. A copy of the deleted file has to be handed to the worker. The Berufsgenossenschaften and labour inspectorates may demand access to the information.

Consequences of positive drug tests vary depending on sector and working task. For instance: In spring 2011, the regional labour court of Cologne approved the direct dismissal of a truck driver of dangerous goods who had been detected driving with 0.2 mg/ml alcohol (police control) (the law stipulates 0.0 mg/ml). In contrast, a works agreement covering university staff arranges for health rehabilitation measures.

Describe changes, evolution development of regulation / agreements on testing, drawing the attention to the review in light of the improvement of the testing methods

As of 2011, there is an ongoing debate on amending ArbMedVV to integrate the BGV A4, G25 regulation. To our knowledge, the regulation of testing methods is not an issue.

Please note that pre-employment drug testing is not covered by law or accident regulations. Yet under the dictum of occupational safety and health risk prevention, pre-employment testing is not strictly forbidden either. Due to media coverage a grey area of blood and urine testing of job applicants by large companies became known in 2009. In 2010, in the case of pre-employment blood testing at automotive manufacturer Daimler, the federal data protection commission of Baden Wuerttemberg restricted Daimler’s practice to job applicants for defined workplaces. As a consequence, medical testing and health data are an issue of debate on the Employees’ Data Protection Act, shelved in 2010.

In practice, there are indications that testing methods have changed as leading companies in the field of safety technology have promoted alcohol and drug screening devices (Alco Interlock) in vehicles and as entrance barriers to workplaces. In April 2011, the Federal Transport Ministry (Bundesministerium für Verkehr, BMBVS) rejected enforcing a statutory implementation of Alcolocks in motor vehicles on moral grounds and on the grounds of high investment costs for employers. The Ministry is in favour of voluntary implementation.

Block 4: Identify and describe national prevention programmes to combat the use of alcohol/drugs at the workplace, especially those based on agreements and cooperation of the social partners:

  • Organisation(s) responsible for these programmes

  • Drivers and motivations. Objectives

  • Target groups (sectors, specific occupations…)

  • Content and activities developed (campaigns for alcohol/drug free workplaces, information to workers, training, professional counselling and personal assistance, reintegration programmes…)

  • Tools (seminars, brochures, toolkits, guidelines, polls, tests…)

  • Inter-relation with other (health) programmes. Participation of health professionals

  • Are the prevention programmes integrated in the general working conditions/OSH training programmes and management systems?

  • Are the prevention programmes based on joint assessment of the social partners and defined in an agreed policy for the enterprises? Role of work councils and H/S committees.

  • Performance and outcomes of the programmes

  • Changes overtime

  • Assessment of the programmes. Point of view of the social partners.

To clarify the issue there is a need to first differentiate between the levels and actors involved:

  1. National programmes combating the abuse of alcohol/drugs are elaborated by the Federal Centre for Health Education BzgA. A national programme specifically targeting employees and the workplace level is not in place. BzgA typically cooperates with the German Centre for Addiction Issues (Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen, DHS), as a main representative of the associations active in the treatment of addictions in Germany. DHS commissioned an expert report on the practice of company-based drug prevention which in 2006 was debated by policy actors, health insurers and social partners as a way to define voluntary quality standards for preventions of addictions at company level.

According to these DHS quality standards, prevention should include

  • health risk analyses of working conditions,

  • training of managerial staff to detect work-related risks of addictions (stress, mobbing, etc.) as well as

  • individual indications of addictions.

  • company-based health management programmes should include information on risks of drug addiction.

Employers are asked to follow a step-by-step way of procedure of intervention: In case problems fulfilling a working task are suspected to be caused by an addiction, the employee should first be addressed in a supportive manner; if problems reoccur an interview should clarify which form of intervention is needed. The following steps have to involve various actors (works council, HR department, occupational doctor, BG) for implementing either rehabilitation and reintegration measures or dismissal.

  1. Under law; companies are consulted by the sectoral Berufsgenossenschaften (BG), which also train staff members in charge of health and safety issues and which decide on rehabilitation measures. In regard to drug use prevention and rehabilitation, all BG provide seminars, tool kits and guidelines for managerial staff as well as information brochures for employees.

Apart from the BG, the statutory health insurers have to offer company-based prevention measures, yet by decision they exclusively focus on alcohol abuse and smoking. The social partners are represented on the boards of the BG and the Statutory Health Insurance (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung, GKV),

  1. Additionally, various organisations, including Hannover University, regional organisations (Landschaftsverbände) and the Adult Learning Centre of the German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB Bildungswerk) provide training for the voluntary position of a company-based consultant on drug abuse prevention (Betriebliche Suchtberater).

  2. For fostering the implemention of prevention programmes at company level, DHS and health ministries of the federal states recommend that management and works councils conclude works agreement on drug use/abuse and prevention. Works agreements typically exist in public administrations, universities and public hospitals; they are widespread in large companies. As coverage of SME is considerably lower, the Health Ministry of North-Rhine Westphalia, for instance, runs a programme to consult SME on concluding works agreements on drug abuse. Works agreements archived by the Hans Boeckler Foundation (Hans Böckler Stiftung, HBS) indicate that the agreements make stipulations for relative restrictions of alcohol/drug use as well as for complete restrictions. They all arrange for planned procedures of intervention (setting up of a drug expert and/or working group on drug use/rehabilitation, procedure of interrogations and testing).

Drug use is not an issue of sectoral collective bargaining of the social partners.

According to the DHS expert report, throughout the 2000s, policies changed from a strong focus on case management (health rehabilitation of drug addicts) to an integration into company-based occupational health and safety, prevention and health management programmes. Arrangements and procedures vary in detail, yet they have become more standardized since the DHS quality standards have been in place.

There is no evaluation of these measures. The 2010 Prevention Report by GKV indicates that the health insurers’ prevention programmes on alcohol abuse and smoking were most often implemented in the manufacturing industries.

The most extensive drug and alcohol prevention programme is implemented in the maritime industries, following the resolution of the Joint Maritime Commission of the ILO.

Commentary by the NC

NCs are requested to provide a very brief commentary on main obtained results

As long-term statistical data is not available, the development of drug/alcohol use at the workplace over the past decade is open to speculation. Considering the fact of widespread information, seminars and company-based interventions by health experts, a regressive development can be assumed – at least in large companies covered by works agreements and active in prevention management. Yet, speculations on high consumption rates have triggered a practice of pre-employment testing and a growing interest in new technological testing devices marketed by international safety technology manufacturers. Privacy data protection lags behind.

Birgit Kraemer, Institute of Economic and Social Research, WSI

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