Denmark: EWCO comparative analytical report on Trends: Use of Alcohol/Drugs at the Workplace

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  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Health and well-being at work,
  • Working conditions,
  • Published on: 03 May 2012

Helle Ourø Nielsen

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.

In Denmark, control measures intending to control use of alcohol or drugs among employees at the workplace is not widespread. Testing practises are to some extend comprised by the managerial rights (ledelsesretten), and when used by the employer, it is often regulated by collective and local agreements between the social partners. The use of testing practises is not widespread in Denmark, and it is mainly established within the sector of transport.


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

No national statistics exist on the prevalence of use of alcohol and drugs at workplaces in Denmark. Instead knowledge of prevalence will be drawn from minor quantitative surveys as well as studies approaching the issue qualitatively.

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.

Table 1: Sources of information on use of alcohol/drugs at the workplace

Source of data





National Board of Health


Mapping the prevalence of health policies at Danish enterprises

Questionnaire survey among all Danish enterprises having more than 10 employees

In 2003 and 2007

The Danish Centre for Youth Research and the trade union 3F

Association and trade union

Understanding use of drugs and alcohol at workplaces, among young workers in particular

Qualitative interviews with young employees within construction and catering

In 2007

The trade union 3F

Trade Union

Mapping the prevalence of alcohol intake at the workplace among members of 3F.

Quantitative telephone survey

In 2009

The Danish Association of Managers and Executives

Trade Union

Efficiency of alcohol policies on work accidents

Quantitative survey

In 2005

Through a study on health promotion at Danish workplaces (Sundhedsfremme på arbejdspladsen 2007, 2008), The National Board of Health has mapped out the prevalence of alcohol policies. The target group was Danish enterprises, public as well as private, with more than 10 employees. The survey was conducted by questionnaires responded through internet or telephone and 1,846 enterprises participated in the survey.

In corporation with The Danish Centre for Youth Research, the Danish Trade Union 3F has prepared a qualitative study on young people and drugs at the workplace (Unge og stoffer på arbejdspladserne, 2007). 35 respondents in the age of 17 to 32 years were randomly selected from a number of workplaces within the sectors of construction and catering, and from classes at the vocational colleges of construction and catering. The design consisted of single interviews and focus group interviews. The aim of the study was to draw a picture of the use of drugs as well as alcohol intake in the working life, and furthermore to obtain an understanding of reasons for this use. Mapping the prevalence of the use of alcohol and drugs at workplaces was not an objective of the study, but in lack of quantitative data on the prevalence, the findings from this study serve as a qualitative approach to the issue. Only findings related to the sector of construction are presented.

In August 2009 the Danish Trade Union 3F conducted a survey on its member’s intake of alcohol at the workplace (for details see 3F`s newsletter). The members who are organised through this trade union are employed within sectors of industry, transport, construction, service and animals, plants and nature. The survey was carried out through quantitative telephone interviews.

In 2005 The Danish Association of Managers and Executives (Ledernes Hovedorganisation) conducted a survey among its members, asking 686 enterprises who have a history of alcohol-related work accidents, whether introduction of an alcohol policy has reduced the amount of accidents.

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

It is not possible to estimate the true prevalence of alcohol or drug use at Danish workplaces, as no national statistics exist and no survey has been conducted on national level. Instead, findings from studies conducted by the Danish trade union 3F will be presented, indicating the prevalence of alcohol and drug use among employees within the sectors of construction and transport.

In a study on alcohol intake among members of the Danish Trade Union 3F, one of seven reported to drink one or more beers at their workplace during a working day. (For details see 3F`s newsletter, 2009).

Another study of young workers and drugs at workplaces (Unge og stoffer på arbejdspladserne, 2007) shows that young employees within construction commonly experiences beer intake during the working day at the workplace, and they find that it is generally and traditionally accepted. Even though the workplace prohibits alcohol at the site, this is not always complied. Acceptance of alcohol at the work places is emphasized by the fact that some employers use beers as a sort of rewarding or fringe benefit. Apparently alcohol intake at the work place is most prevalent among older employees. An interesting finding is that the magnitude and extend of alcohol use at the workplace tends to be determined of whether those constructors drinking are high in the hierarchy. Within the sector of construction cannabis is the most common used drug. Cannabis is being assimilated with beers as harmless by young workers.

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

Information on this subject is also based on the report Young Workers and Drugs at Workplaces (Unge og stoffer på arbejdspladserne) which provides information on the construction sector. There is no such information available within the transport sector.

Situations of alcohol intake at the workplace ranges wide, from celebrating events or taking a break quenching thirst with beers in warm weather before continuing work, to certain groups of workers drinking beers daily. Typically the intake takes place during the working day in relation with breaks or when the work is at a standstill. The attitude towards alcohol constitutes a precedent for use of other intoxicants at the workplace. In continuation of drinking cold beers on a rooftop on a warm day, the workers might as well smoke cannabis.

Cannabis is typically used as a recreational and pain relieving drug in the end of the working day. Working within construction can be physically demanding, and cannabis is used as a sort of self-medication to calm down again after a hard and busy day. Cannabis is also used as a sort of distraction from monotonous jobs with no possibilities of development or further education. In these situations cannabis soothes the feeling of meaninglessness. Cannabis is being equalised with beers as being acceptable, while exhilarating drugs are considered as “hard drugs”, which is regarded as a risk to safety at work. While cannabis is being the most common used drug, exhilarating drugs also appears in the sector.

An issue of working within the construction sector is the possibility of earning an informal income after work, which often results in a significant extension of the working day. It is physically demanding, and it might be tempting for workers to make use of exhilarating drugs. A physical demanding job with high pace and making good money is contributing to young employees’ self-conception of “living a life in the fast lane”. Together with alternation and mobility, these values are regarded important by those groups of young workers, who state to use drugs at work occasional. They are characterised by seeking intensity in their job and are aiming to be proficient at their profession. They have high standards for their own skills and the job has become their identity.

Source: Young Workers and Drugs at Workplaces (Unge og stoffer på arbejdspladserne), 3F and The Danish Centre for Youth Research, 2007

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…)

Within construction the safety risk of alcohol intake and drug use during work is well recognised. The fact that alcohol intake at the workplace is associated with risk of work accidents is indicated by a survey among members of The Danish Association of Managers and Executives (Ledernes Hovedorganisation) showing that 43% of the enterprises reduced the amount of work accidents, after the introduction of an alcohol policy. An alcohol policy is defined as a set of rules providing the employees with information on the permitted level of alcohol consumption during work and the limitations of circumstances, if any, where the alcohol consumption is permitted. 19% of the enterprises included in the survey do not have an alcohol policy, 62% of the enterprises do not allow alcohol intake except on special occasions, 16% of the enterprises allow alcohol intake but limited to breaks, and 3% allows alcohol intake without restrictions during work. For details se press release 12 December 2005 Alcohol policies reduce work accidents (Alkohol-politik giver færre arbejdsulykker).

According to the study of young workers within construction (Unge og stoffer på arbejdspladserne, 2007), affected employees at work is an everyday occurrence, and it is something the colleagues have to deal with. Even if misuse is not included, affected colleagues at work are not rare, and it is a reality the employees have to deal with. A consequence is the fact that some employees develop their own strategy at work in order to cope with the issue. Examples addressed in the report are workers, who would never stand nearby an affected truck crane driver loading the crane of or workers, who provide pretexts in order to avoid driving with affected colleagues.

No statistics or data on the costs of alcohol related and drug related work accidents are available.

Another consequence of using alcohol at the workplace is the risk of drink driving, when driving home from work subsequently. A report published in 2007 by Technical University of Denmark, Department of Transport (Danmarks TransportForskning) provided characteristics of drink drivers, showing that 1 out of 4 drink drivers had consumed the alcohol at work. For details se Characteristics of the drink driver (Karakteristik af spiritusbilisten, 2007)

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

No national legislation prohibiting or limiting alcohol/drug use at work exists. Collective agreements between the social partners, including local agreements, may provide regulation and stipulation of alcohol and drug consumption at work as well as testing practices within certain sectors. Within the sectors transport and construction there are several local agreements concerning consumption of alcohol and drugs at the workplace or affection of intoxicants during working hours. Local agreements typically only comprise one or few workplaces. An example is given in block 3.2.

According to the managerial rights (ledelsesretten) private as well as public enterprises also have the possibility to create an alcohol or drug policy limiting or prohibiting alcohol intake at the specific workplace. In 2010 The National Board of Health in Denmark published the report Health and Wellbeing at the Workplace (Sundhed og trivsel på arbejdspladsen) with the aim of providing inspiration for systematic and strategic efforts in health promotion within Danish workplaces. The publication is a result of a survey conducted by The National Board of Health in 2007, which mapped out the prevalence of health policies and health promotion programmes at Danish enterprises (Sundhedsfremme på arbejdspladsen 2007, 2008). The report showed that the main part (94%) of all Danish enterprises with more than 10 employees has regulations that limit employee´s alcohol intake at the workplace. Within construction 21% of the enterprises fully prohibit alcohol in the working time and 46% prohibits alcohol with the exception of special occasions such as at receptions. 22% allows alcohol intake during the working day however limited to lunch break or dinner break, while 3% allow alcohol intake within a certain limit of amount of drinks. 5% of the enterprises have no limit on alcohol intake at the workplace. Within transport, hotel and catering, and trade and repair (data not separated) 29% have full prohibition, 59% allows alcohol only at special occasions, 5% allows alcohol only at lunch and dinner breaks while 1% allow intake with a certain limit of amount and 4% have no limitations.

Source: Health Promotion at the Workplace 2007 (Sundhedsfremme på arbejdspladsen 2007), published in 2008 by the National Board of Health.

An alcohol or drug policy might differ from the collective agreement in terms of providing regulations in the policy not included in any agreements. However it is still the collective agreement that serves as the legal basis. As an example emphasising this it has been due to several arbitration decisions (voldgiftskendelser), whether employers are entitled to prohibit alcohol intake during breaks paid by the employees themselves. In some cases within construction, where no collective or local agreements fully prohibit alcohol intake, it has been stated that employers are not entitled to prohibit alcohol intake during the employee´s self paid break as long as the intake does not pose a risk in the job subsequently performed. In specific cases this has been further quantified as an intake limit of maximum one amount of alcohol during the self paid break. For details, see 3F´s Newsletter.

For several reasons the relevance of an alcohol or drug policy should not be neglected. Most importantly in this context because of the policies´ role in communicating the workplace´s regulations and sanctions regarding alcohol and drugs to the employees as this is the one of the requirements of testing practices and subsequent sanctions.

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

There are no legislation on alcohol and drug testing at work places in Denmark. Regulation of testing practices intending to control the use of alcohol and drug use in Denmark has its legal basis in the general labour legislation together with relevant provisions in collective and local agreements. Testing practices is not addressed in the managerial right, but the employer´s right to manage and control work includes the right to carry out control measures and regulatory provisions, given that a number of prerequisites are met. This is also pointed out in the Agreement of Control Measures (Aftale om kontrolforanstaltninger) reached between The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and The Confederation of Danish Employers (DA) in 2001. The prerequisites are that control measure must be expedient, have operational reasons and it may not be unnecessarily offensive or intrusive. For the control measure to be expedient it implies that the employer has established restrictions on the area, where else the control measure would be aimless. In specific decisions in cases of testing employees, it is crucial whether regulations within the area exist at the workplace, and whether these regulations have been communicated to the employee. For the control measure to be operational reasoned would for instance mean that the testing is introduced for reasons of safety. The requirement of the control measure not being unnecessarily offensive or intrusive provides the employer to choose the least intrusive method. Furthermore the agreement between The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and The Confederation of Danish Employers (DA) requires the employer to inform the employees 6 weeks in advance before new control measures are launched, unless the aim of the control is lost hereby. The agreement is not applicable if the partners have established other regulation in a collective agreement.

Although the employer may have the right to require an alcohol or drug test from the employee on the basis of the contract of employment and labour legislation, the employer is never entitled to enforce the employee to be tested against his or her will. The right to require a test on the basis of the contract of employment merely means that the employer is entitled to impose sanctions against the employee if the requirement is not complied. The sanctions imposed depend on the specific circumstances in light of relevant collective or local agreements, if any.

Source: Ministry of Employment (Beskæftigelsesministeriet), Notes of Labour Law from Ministry of Employment: Testing Practises of Alcohol and Drug Use among Employees (Beskæftigelsesministeriets arbejdsretlige notater: Alkohol- og narkotikatestning af ansatte, 2009).

In Denmark it is not widespread that employers make use of testing practises, but within the last decade it has been introduced on various workplaces. The type of test used for this purpose is also agreed between the social partners and in some cases the workplace. For alcohol testing the most common test used is a breathalyzer test whereas drug test used could be a urine test or a blood test. As testing practices have not been widespread and because collective as well as local agreements differ, no “common practice” is conducted. Instead an example is presented within the sector of transport as testing practices seems to be most common within this sector.

In 2006 the private bus operator Arriva reached to agreement with 3F´s Transport Group (Transportgruppen) on introducing alcohol tests at work after prolonging negotiation. The method used is a breathalyzer. All drivers at the selected garage are to be tested and it takes place either in the morning or in the end of the day to protect the driver for being tested when driving with passengers. The tests are carried out by a private enterprise that also selects time, place and garage for the tests and communicate the result to Arriva. Tests showing a BAC between 0.2 and 0.5 redeem a warning, and drivers tested higher than 0.5 BAC are dismissed.

Source: 3F´s Newsletter released on 24 March 2006

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.

The earlier mentioned publication “Health and Wellbeing at Work” by The National Board of Health which maps out the prevalence of health policies and health promotion programmes focuses on interventions targeting alcohol, diet, smoking, exercise and stress and serves to meet the workplace´s need of central recommendation within these areas. It presents approaches to how the workplace can work systematically with health and thereby supports that interventions increasingly become integrated into the values of the workplace. A 5-step model is presented describing how the workplace can raise the work of health promotion from the level of employee benefits to become a strategic tool. The model includes a number of parameters experienced to be relevant to the efficiency of health promoting interventions. These parameters are:

  • management involvement;

  • employee involvement;

  • identification of health problems and needs;

  • organising;

  • communication and resource allocation;

  • targets, monitoring and evaluation;

  • individual-oriented interventions;

  • environment-oriented interventions.

The publication is aimed primarily at the workplace´s management and the HR manager as well as the union representative and members of the HS committee (Tillids- og sikkerhedsrepræsentanter). By the end of 2009 the National Board of Health sent the publication to all Danish workplaces having at least 20 employees and to enterprises within construction having 10-19 employees.

Source: Health Promotion at the Workplace 2007 (Sundhedsfremme på arbejdspladsen 2007), published in 2008 by the National Board of Health.

Commentary by the NC

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

Suggested number of words for this section: 100

Within the sectors of construction and transport, use of alcohol at the workplace occurs to some extent. The employers have the possibility of establishing testing practises, though the access of introducing this control measure is delimited because of certain prerequisites. Although not necessarily required, social partners are often involved in terms of collective and local agreements.

Helle Ourø Nielsen, Oxford Research

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