Alcohol and drug misuse examined

In October 1998, delegates at a conference on alcohol and drug misuse - jointly organised by trade unions and pressure/research groups - were informed of its huge costs to UK industry and of the possible directions for addressing the problems in the future.

Delegates at a joint conference, organised by theTrades Union Congress (TUC), Alcohol Concern and the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependency (ISDD) on 12 October 1998, heard that alcohol and drug misuse is estimated to cost employers nearly GBP 3 billion per year - GBP 2 billion for alcohol misuse and GBP 800 million for drug misuse. While it is estimated that 14 million working days are lost through alcohol misuse each year, very little is known about the impact of drug misuse so the true cost may be higher than estimated. Delegates were told that one in four workplace accidents involve workers who have been drinking alcohol. Furthermore, three out of four people with alcohol problems and one in four seeking help with drug problems are estimated to be in employment.

Delegates heard that drink and drug misuse is likely to continue to be problematic unless sensitive alcohol and drug policies are introduced to support employees with problems. Up until now, employers have tended to respond to such issues in punitive ways, whereas the conference stressed that there is a great need for comprehensive workplace policies which should be supportive to employees. TUC general secretary, John Monks, said that: "Alcohol and drug abuse at work is unsafe, unhealthy and unproductive. But effective workplace policies to tackle the problem must ensure that employees are supported and not punished for their problems. This is why it is so important that they are developed in conjunction with trade unions."

The UK government has committed itself to a programme of research into the effects of alcohol and drug misuse and the conference called on employers to become "proactive" in their approach to such issues.

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