EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

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

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  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 03 May 2012

Bjørn Tore Langeland

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.

Although research has shown a general increase in the use of alcohol and drugs at Norwegian workplaces for the recent decades, little is known about the magnitude of this problem in Norway. Alcohol is by far the drug associated with the most challenges to the workplace, and calculations shows that 33% of short-term absence and 15% of long term absence are alcohol related. The cost of this is estimated to exceed 10 billion NOK annually. Most prevention measures at Norwegian workplaces follow the AKAN model, which emphasis on the formulation of a clear substance abuse policy and early intervention of other specific preventive tools at work.


Block 1: Main sources of information dealing with the issue of alcohol/drug use at the workplace at national level and its relation with 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

  • Name of the statistical source

  • Scope

  • Goals

  • Methodology

  • Periodicity

There are several statistical sources on alcohol and drug use in Norway. One of the most comprehensive is conducted by The National Institute of Public Health (NIPH) which on a regular basis conduct statistics to uncover the use of alcohol and drugs in different sectors. In 2010, the Institute in example performed about 9,500 drug analyses on samples from drivers suspected of driving affected. The samples were analyst for alcohol, intoxicating drugs and narcotic substances. The Institute test routinely for over 30 different intoxicating drugs and narcotic substances, and often find several substances in the blood at the same time. Likewise, the Norwegian Institute for alcohol and drug research (SIRUS) publish statistics on alcohol and drug research on an annual basis. SIRUS is also responsible for maintaining the statistics database RusStat, which contains updated statistics on alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Other good statistic sources are Arbeidslivets kompetansesenter for rus‐ og avhengighetsproblematikk (AKAN) and The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority.

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.

In 2008-09, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Institute for Drug and Alcohol Research (SIRUS) conducted a pilot study on the use of alcohol and psychoactive drugs in the workplace. A total of 526 people participated in the study, which included four companies and a number of professional drivers. Participation was voluntary and anonymous. Participants filled in a short questionnaire, and gave a saliva sample to test for recent use of alcohol, illegal drugs or psychoactive medicines, which may cause drowsiness. Self-reported data suggest that hangover after drinking alcohol appears to be the largest substance abuse problem at Norwegian workplaces, resulting in absence and inefficiency at work. At the same time analysis of oral fluid revealed that the use of illegal drugs was more common than drinking alcohol before working or at the workplace.

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

Approximately 90% of Norwegian employees are drinking alcohol (Horverak 2010), and alcohol is by far the drug associated with the most challenges to the workplace. At the same time both the use of medications and drugs such as cannabis, amphetamine and cocaine drugs are major challenges and potential dangers in the cases of employees abusing them. In a pilot study of four Norwegian companies (and 126 professional drivers) ran by SIRUS and NIPH, traces of sedative drugs were found for 5.1% and the use of illegal drugs for 1.7% of the employees who participated in the survey (Christophersen et al 2010). Following alcohol, the second most common is amphetamine, followed by THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) and methamphetamine. Use of alcohol and drugs in general is a growing problem in society, and this applies both in Norway and internationally. The problem with drugs is not primarily which drugs are on the market, but the acceptance of using them. The debates on the issue are almost resolved and the legalization idea has grown strong in certain environments.

Use of alcohol and drugs is a problem for a growing number of professions, but sectors of special focus has traditionally been the construction industry, the health sector, the nightlife industry and among professional drivers.

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

Increased availability of alcohol in society in general has resulted in increased availability in the labour context. Research shows a clear correlation between the availability, use and extent of the problems (Babor et al 2010). The context and challenge also applies to the workplace.

Previously, there was a distinction between "dry" and "wet" professions, but this is in the process of being wiped outSeveral structural relationships in the workplace can contribute to increased use among the employees:

  • When working outside of regular work there is less social control

  • Number of travel days abroad is a strong indicator of increased alcohol consumption

  • Unstructured and highly variable working hours increases the likelihood of higher consumption

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

  • Sick leaves attributed to alcohol/drugs, absenteeism

  • 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…)

Alcohol and drug use in work-related situations pose a risk to the community in relation to both absences, accidents and productivity. In addition, the social environment and corporate reputation are affected. Figures from the Labour Inspectorate shows that 11.4% of all work related accidents are alcohol related, which is far lower than for other types of accidents. It is believed that the fear of accidents is a strong regulator that helps keep the alcohol consumption down. Among employees with alcohol problems the risk of accidents is still 2.7 times greater than normal. Calculations done by IRIS show that 33% of short-term absence and 15% of long term absence are alcohol related, even if this is not given as the reason for absence. The typical pattern is 1-day absence, and the likelihood of being away from work the next day is doubled when drinking alcohol, even in moderate amounts. Alcohol-related sickness was estimated to cause an annual loss of 1.5 billion NOK in Norway in 2009. In addition, the cost of reduced quality/efficiency was estimated to 8.7 billion NOK per year. There are many examples of how alcohol use both can include and exclude. Lack of dialogue and awareness of the alcohol culture related to the workplace and the gray areas the employees participating in, can in example exclude employees who do not want to drink or who are not happy with the behavior and interaction forms that evolve in these gray areas.

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

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

There is a growing need for drug control in the workplace, as the technological development

places higher demands on the employees' precision and expertise. The risk increases that the

defects may have serious economic and health consequences for both employees and outsiders.

Drug testing raises questions about what it takes to give an employer the right to require that

employees leave the test (by urine sample, breath test or blood test). Drug testing is considered to be a particularly intrusive control, and there are strict requirements to implement such measures as described in the Working Environment Act. The basic condition is that the measure has a legitimate interest in business matters and that it does not involve an undue burden on the

employee (§ 9-1). The requirement for a valid reason is to prevent arbitrariness. If there are

reasonable grounds must be assessed based on the type of business and positions of concern. An

airline, for example, could have a valid reason for requiring drug testing of pilots and cabin crew, but not of the office staff. Furthermore, the specific conditions for carrying out medical

examinations as described in the Working Environment Act § 9-4 be fulfilled. At least one of the

following conditions must be met:

  • - When required by law or regulation

  • - Positions that involve specific risks

  • - When the employer finds it necessary to protect life or health

Proceedings are also required before an eventually implement of a drug control. The employer is

obliged as soon as possible to discuss the needs, design, implementation and significant change of drug control activities with employee representatives. Before the measure is implemented, the

employer shall also provide affected employees with information about:

  • - Purpose of the measure

  • - Practical consequences of the measure, including how the project will be implemented,

  • - The measure's estimated duration.

Access to drug control is regulated in certain professions, such as police and staff in the offshore industry. However, there is no general statutory authority for access to drug control in the workplace. Jobs that involve "special risk" are positions where the employee routinely may experience situations where the consequences of failure in the performance is particularly great, either for the employee himself or a third party, or have major social consequences, so it therefore must be special duty of care and attention. Typical examples include offshore and aerospace business.

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?

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

Today an important purpose of workplace drug testing WDT programmes in Norway is to get substance abusing employees into treatment, provide the opportunity to get help, and to get the individuals back on the job. WDT programmes are used both for pre-employment testing (e.g., requiring urine samples from job applicants) and thus rejecting applicants being positive for illegal drugs, and also for post-employment surveillance (e.g., requiring urine samples from existing employees on a random, comprehensive, or suspicion basis) and for follow-up testing. In Norway few companies have implemented this type of programme, and testing is mostly performed in the transport, petrochemical, shipping, automobile, pharmaceutical and computer industry. Normally, urine samples are used for WDT in Norway. The samples are most commonly tested for amphetamines, cannabinoids, cocaine, opiates and sometimes benzodiazepines and alcohol. However, findings of a drug or drug metabolite in urine just indicates that the drug has been used within a time period of several days or more prior to sampling, including use that does not directly affect working safety or productivity. Blood samples could be used to reveal possible alcohol and drug influence at the time of sampling. Furthermore, blood samples could also be used to look for biological markers of high alcohol consumption and might therefore give more information about the alcohol consumption during the last months. Blood samples are rarely used in Norwegian WDT programmes because taking a blood sample may be considered as a stronger invasion of privacy than taking a urine sample. Oral fluid may be used to detect and monitor recent use of alcohol (i.e. during the last 12 hours) and drugs (during the last 1-2 days), and the use of oral fluid testing in WDT has been increasing during the last years. Oral fluid is also an easily available medium that can be collected with non-invasive methods without the intrusion of privacy and with little chance of adulteration (unlike urine).

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.

Prevention in the workplace can be both selective measures affecting one or a few, but also a general awareness of what can reinforce incipient problems. Drug culture in the workplace can be a challenge, since alcohol is also an important element in community building. This represents an ethical dilemma, since it can be difficult to specify when the alcohol in a social context is becoming a problem. Companies must balance between the effort justified by the risk that employees with a problematic relationship with alcohol and other drugs pose for the workplace, and efforts based on both the risk and joy of all alcohol use. One of the most important organizations for prevention in the workplace is "The social committee on alcoholism and drug abuse" (AKAN). The organization was established as a tripartite collaboration between the parties in the Norwegian work life (LO, NHO and the State) in 1963, and the purpose was to prevent drug problems at Norwegian workplaces, and to ensure that employees with drug problems were helped. AKAN is represented in all sectors. In many companies, AKAN committees have been established and AKAN contacts appointed with special responsibility to engage in drug prevention work in the company. Today, nearly 2 of 5 Norwegian employees in companies that have a substance abuse prevention organized by AKAN model. This model recommends that the drug prevention work should be based on a partnership between the parties in the business. There are several ways to organize the preventive work. The businesses are recommended to choose a form that is adapted to the organization as a whole while ensuring adequate priority to preventive work internally. The model also emphasizes that a formulation of a drug policy clearly showing the company's attitude to drug use to be a good foundation for prevention. Drug policy should describe the company's views on the use of drugs during work, at work, in situations that may relate to the working community and leisure that could have consequences for the job. It is not about to ban the use of alcohol in the gray area situations or related to the work team. It's about putting words on a still a taboo area to provide security and predictability in the work team. Is it okay to get a hangover at work? And how do one handle employees influenced by drugs? Clear guidelines with the use of warnings will be perceived as a good tool to convey the seriousness for employees in such cases. It ensures both predictability and equal treatment. In addition to AKAN, several other voluntary and public organizations also offers courses and seminars to companies, where specific prevention tool for early intervention at the workplace are presented.

Commentary by the NC

Although the use of alcohol and drugs at workplaces are an increasing problem in Norway, figures show that the use of such substances is still less common in Norway than in many other countries it may be natural to compare with. The use of such substances is still prevalent in traditionally deprived sectors, but the previously clear distinction between "wet" and "dry" professions is being wiped out.The use of alcohol / drugs can affect workplace safety and productivity in several ways, and residual after-effects after large alcohol intake (also called “hang-over”) is one of the most common reasons for short-time absence at Norwegian workplaces.

Bjørn Tore Langeland, National Institute of Occupational Health

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