Malta EWCO CAR on Use of Alcohol/Drugs at the Workplace

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

Christine Garzia

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.

Information sources dealing with the issue of alcohol and drugs at the workplace are scarce. With respect to drugs, the limited data available seems to indicate that workers in the construction, transport and food processing industries might be more at risk than workers in other sectors Existing legislation does not specifically refer to the prohibition or the testing for drugs and alcohol use at the workplace. The S.A.F.E. programme, a national prevention programme implemented by Sedqa, which targets the use of alcohol and drugs at the workplace, is implemented across various industries. A number of initiatives have been developed specifically for the transport and construction sectors.


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

Information sources specifically dealing with the issue of alcohol and drugs at the place of work are virtually non-existent. However, a number of national surveys are conducted on a regular basis. These provide generic data on the consumption of alcohol and the use of drugs respectively. These include the following:

Lifestyle Survey (2009)

The National Statistics Office (NSO) conducts the Lifestyle Survey every four years, which gives information on factors related to lifestyle. Results include information related to alcohol consumption. The target population consists of Maltese residents aged 18 and over living in private households. A gross sample of 2,000 individuals is selected using systematic random sampling. Data is collected through self-completion questionnaires sent by post. The data of the last published survey was collected between November 2006 and January 2007. Although the consumption of alcohol and drugs at the workplace was not addressed in the questionnaire, one of the questions enquired about drink-driving. However, it was not specified in what context this occurred.

European Health Interview Survey (2008)

The Department of Health Information and Research is responsible for carrying out the European Health Interview Survey. This survey is used as a tool to provide policy makers with information on lifestyle habits and behaviours, which is then used to develop health promotion strategies. The survey was last conducted between June and August 2008 on a randomly selected sample of 5,500 individuals aged 15 years and over. The sample was drawn from a population register provided by the NSO and was stratified by age, gender and locality. The response rate was 72%. One of the questions focused on the consumption of alcohol and drugs and the context in which alcohol was normally consumed. However, the workplace was not included as a possible response.

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.

Sources of information regarding the use of alcohol and drugs at the workplace are very limited in Malta. It seems that this area has been neglected locally. The only known study conducted during the last few years is Drug and Alcohol Testing at the Workplace (Azzopardi, 2010). Questionnaires were sent to 36 companies/entities which implemented the S.A.F.E. Programme, a national prevention programme addressing the use of alcohol and drugs at the workplace. The response rate was 72%. Questions asked included what type of testing is conducted (if any), at what stage testing is conducted and policies implemented by the company.

Some of the earliest studies known (till the year 2000) include:

  • Vella, N & Gauci, M. (1997) Drugs and Alcohol at the Workplace: Managerial Attitudes, Sedqa

  • Farrugia, S. (2000) Attitudes of a select group of public service employees to the use and abuse of drugs, University of Malta, Unpublished document.

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

No published data was found in relation to prevalence of drug and alcohol use at the workplace. However, unpublished internal data supplied by Sedqa, which is the National Agency for Drugs and Alcohol Abuse, might give an indication. This data provides information on the employment status and occupational sector of new clients attending the programme offered by the Drugs Community Services, which offers individualised support to drug users. Specifically, the statistical information about persons being referred to Sedqa’s Drugs Community Services during 2010 indicates that a significant number of these individuals reported that they work within the transport (24.68%) or the construction industries (15.58%). It is interesting to note that the Food processing Industry came next with 11.69% (Marchand Agius, personal communication, 9th August, 2011).

(These statistics include individual clients who were new in 2010 and who stated they were in employment (i.e. employed or self-employed) during their first visit).

Older studies, such as the study conducted by Vella and Gauci (1997) also offer some insight, in this case vis-à-vis the prevalence of alcohol and drug use amongst managers. The study revealed that the prevalence of managers taking alcohol was 59% and those using drugs amounted to 1.1%. However the study clearly states that it could not determine whether such use occurred at work. This study also gave an estimate on the extent of drug and alcohol use at the workplace as perceived by managers. 5% of respondents claimed that they were aware of workers within their company who took drugs at work, while 21.4% of respondents claimed they were aware of workers who drank alcohol at work.

The study conducted by Farrugia (2000) on the attitudes of a select group of public service employees to the use and abuse of drugs, also sought to obtain an indication on the use of illicit drugs amongst participants. However, the study did not determine whether such use occurred during work. 12.7% of the participants admitted to making use of marijuana, whilst none of the respondents admitted to making use of other drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy.

2.2. Please provide data and informationn 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

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…)

No studies are known to have been carried which provide data on the rationale or consequences of drug and alcohol use in the Construction or Transport Sector. In fact, local studies and available literature on this subject tend to quote data and information which is obtained from research studies carried out abroad.

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 no legislation in Malta which specifically governs the use of alcohol and drugs at the workplace. There is a general duty of the employer to ensure health and safety at work under the Occupational Health and Safety Authority Act (Cap 424). Reference within this act is also made to the duty of every worker to safeguard their own health and safety and that of other persons who can be affected through their work.” [Act 27 of 2000, Sect 6 (1) and Sect 7 (1)].

The prohibition and limitation of alcohol and drugs at the workplace is not referred to directly in the Occupational Health and Safety Authority Act (Cap 424). However, since both the employer and the employee are duty bound to avoid dangers to health and safety, such prohibition and limitation is implied to indirectly. Subsequent to this Act, Legal Notice 36 of 2003 came into force, and whilst both make a reference to offences, the references made are on general terms [L.N. 36 of 2003 Sect 21 (1); L.N. 36 of 2003 Sect 21 (2)] Thus, it can be inferred that if the employee is under the influence of alcohol and drugs and performs a task, he/she could be endangering others’ health and safety, in which case the employee would be committing an offence. It is relevant to point out that in Malta it is illegal to possess, manufacture, cultivate, import and distribute narcotic drugs, and this may all lead to criminal action (Farrugia, 2000).

Subsequently, another Legal Notice came into force, referred to as “Work Place (Minimum Health and Safety Requirements for Work at Construction Sites) Regulations” (Legal Notice 281 of 2004) which aims “to lay down minimum health and safety requirements for work at construction sites” [L.N. 281 of 2004, Sect 1 (2)], thus providing legislation specifically for the construction sector. In this Legal Notice we find a reference to making available non-alcoholic beverages [Schedule IV (18.2)]. The reference to the availability of “non-alcoholic beverages” would lend one to assume that alcohol use at the workplace is not acceptable, even though, again, no specific reference is made to the use of alcohol and drugs at the workplace.

Additional legislation which can be quoted is the Traffic Regulation Ordinance. Cap 65, Sect 15B (1), which refers to driving under the influence. By means of this legislation, workers whose job involves driving (such as those working in the transport sector) are automatically prohibited from consuming an amount of alcohol which would exceed the maximum blood alcohol content (80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood).

3.2. Specific focus on legislation / agreements regarding testing practices intended to control the use of alcohol/drugs at work Please update and complete information contained in and . 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?

There is no legislation in Malta which regulates testing practices at the workplace. The only legislation currently present which regulates testing is that related to tests administered by the Police when there is reasonable suspicion that a driver is under the influence (Traffic Regulation Ordinance Cap 65 Sect 15C). Camilleri & Farrugia (personal communication, 2nd September, 2011) from the Malta Employers Association (MEA) and Azzopardi (personal communication, 8th August, 2011) from Sedqa, mentioned that some companies opt to include procedures regarding testing practices in their Collective Agreements, however no data exists to determine whether this is common practice.

A very small number of companies are known to engage in practices that test for alcohol and drugs. Types of tests include breathalyser, urine, blood and hair testing to test for alcohol and a variety of drugs (Azzopardi, 2010). The stakeholders, namely Sedqa, the MEA, the General Workers Union (GWU), Union Haddiema Maghqudin (UHM) and the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA) all mentioned that testing is usually conducted because there is suspicion that an employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Therefore this practice seems to be incident-related (which deems the practice cost-effective) and random testing appears to be very rarely conducted, most notably by safety sensitive companies. The latter is prevalent particularly in relation to sea transport and is conducted by foreign shipping companies visiting Malta (Soler, personal communication, 31st August, 2011). Pre-employment testing is not prohibited; however due to confidentiality, the candidate is labelled as either “fit” or “unfit” for employment (Camilleri & Farrugia, personal communication, 2nd September, 2011).

Results are communicated to the employer and the employee, verbally as well as in the form of a report. It seems to be common practice that the HR department has access to the results. Depending on the company, the consequences of a positive result may lead to termination of employment or else the employee might be given a chance to rehabilitate and resume employment when fit for work.

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

The Various Laws (Criminal Matters) Act of 2010, which came into force in 2010, includes a number of amendments of the Traffic Regulation Ordinance Cap 65. While the previous legislation had considered refusal to submit to testing a crime, the new legislation, while retaining the criminality of refusing to provide the required sample, also provides for such refusal to be automatically considered as an admission of guilt of driving under the influence. [Act No. VII of 2010 Sect 41 (c)]

In the previous legislation there also existed a distinction vis-à-vis the fine, depending on whether it was a first or a subsequent conviction, this distinction was removed and the fine is currently that of €1,200. (Previously the fine for a first conviction was set at €467.70) [Act No. VII of 2010 Sect 43 (a)]

The type of breathalyser equipment used by the police had been very specific in the previous legislation. Via the amendments which came into force, the minister responsible for the police has been given the flexibility (1) to choose other types of equipment and (2) to provide for new procedures to be adopted by the police in carrying out breathalyser, blood and urine tests [Act No. VII of 2010 Sect 40 (2)]

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.

Since 1996, “Agenzija Sedqa” (the agency against drug and alcohol abuse) has been running a programme referred to as “The Substance Abuse Free Employees Programme”, (S.A.F.E.) which specifically targets the industrial workforce. The programme is moulded on the rationale of Employee Assisted Programmes (EAP’s) implemented abroad. The aim of the S.A.F.E. Programme is to promote health, safety and well-being among employees for the benefit of both the individual employees and the company via the use of prevention initiatives.

A main driver to implement this programme was the study conducted by Gauci and Vella (1997) which highlighted the importance of addressing substance misuse at the workplace, as well as the possible introduction of training and preventive programmes directed at employees.

Even though the S.A.F.E. Programme is targeted at companies across all industries, the Primary Prevention Unit at Sedqa tends to give slightly more importance to those industries which are thought to be more at risk, namely transport, construction and food services (Azzopardi, personal communication, 8th August, 2011). Since no local studies have been conducted which can give an indication of the prevalence of drug and alcohol use and in which sectors this problem is more prevalent, this information is based on data and information obtained from other countries.

The Primary Prevention Unit carries outreach with local companies and those interested can apply for the programme to be delivered at their workplace. Speakers come from a range of disciplines including psychology, social work and healthcare. Regarding the latter, psychiatric nurses and doctors are involved in the delivery. The SAFE programme is made up of 4 phases:

  1. An exhibition with information and leaflets;

  2. A four-session training programme for management, frontline supervisors and foremen is delivered. A number of topics are addressed: (a) alcohol and its effects, (b) drugs and their effects, (c) stress management and (d) approaching the problem employee.

  3. Information sessions for employees focusing on the effects of alcohol and drugs.

  4. Company Drug and Alcohol Policy Formulation and appointment of Focus Person

Whilst the SAFE is a standard programme it is also flexible in that it takes into consideration the needs of the company and employees in question. Before the programme is implemented, there is consultation with the HR & Training staff, as well as with Health and Safety Officers (if such a role exists within the company). It depends on the initiative of the companies in question whether such prevention programmes are integrated in the general working conditions / OSH training programmes and management systems. A number of companies have opted to do this.

Evaluation sheets are given out after each programme and such feedback has been instrumental in adapting the programme over time. One particular change has been the increase of related topics discussed during the sessions, such as gambling and binge drinking. Additional changes have included the development of practical sessions, such as a workshop on stress management.

Specifically vis-à-vis the transport and construction sectors, in addition to the implementation of the S.A.F.E. programme, which in itself reached a substantial number of workers, the following initiatives were also implemented by Sedqa (Azzopardi, personal communication, 8th August, 2011):

  • Transport: Since 2003, 164 preventive sessions (2649 participants) regarding drugs, alcohol and driving were conducted with drivers applying for the special licence.

  • Construction: A onetime seminar was conducted in 2006 with foremen working in the public sector (however a number of employees from the private sector also attended).

Social partners, including the MEA and two major unions, the GWU and the UHM, which operate across various sectors of the economy, tend to view this national programme in a positive way. It was noted that social partners tend to be involved and consulted by companies when the latter decide to implement policies related to this issue. There seems to be consensus that there is an urgent need for legislation to be more specific with regards the issue of substance abuse at the workplace; this to safeguard both the employer as well as the employee.

Commentary by the NC

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

It is evident that local data and research on the subject is lacking. The few studies conducted clearly indicate that alcohol and drugs are present at the Maltese workplace and all social partners interviewed (Azzopardi, 2011; Farrugia, 2011; Deguara, 2011; Bonello, 2011; Camilleri & Farrugia, 2011; Soler, 2011) agreed that this issue should be addressed. Albeit no studies have focused on the construction and transport sectors, the data provided by Sedqa may suggest that employees working in the transport, construction and food processing industries, may be at a higher risk of engaging in this behaviour.

Another salient issue which emerged is the dire need of specific legislation on this topic, both in terms of prohibition and limitation, as well as in terms of testing practices. More specific legislation would ultimately benefit and safeguard the rights and duties of the employer, as well as the employee.

Christine Garzia – Centre for Labour Studies – University of Malta

Interviews conducted with:

  • Mr. Silvio Farrugia – Senior Manager (Policy Development) - Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA) (Interview conducted on 25th July)

  • Ms. Josianne Azzopardi – Prevention Executive (Sedqa Prevention Services) – Sedqa (Interview conducted on 8th August, 2011)

  • Mr. Jason Deguara – Section Secretary - General Workers Union (GWU) (Interview conducted on 12th August, 2011)

  • Dr. Jean Karl Soler M.D. – Family Doctor and Occupational Health Consultant. (Interview conducted on 31st August, 2011)

  • Dr. Charlotte Camilleri – Executive – EU & Legal Affairs – Malta Employers Association (MEA) (Interview conducted on 2nd September, 2011)

  • Mr. Joseph Farrugia – Director - Malta Employers Association (MEA) (Interview conducted on 2nd September, 2011)

  • Mr. Jesmond Bonello – Assistant Secretary General / Health and Safety Officer – Union Haddiema Maghqudin (UHM) (Interview conducted on 13th September, 2011)


  • Azzopardi, J. (2010). Drug and Alcohol Testing at the Workplace, Sedqa - Malta.

  • Azzopardi, J. (2011). Personal Communication

  • Bonello, J. (2011). Personal Communication

  • Camilleri, C. & Farrugia, J. (2011). Personal Communication

  • Deguara, J. (2011). Personal Communication

  • European Health Interview Survey (2008). Department of Health Information and Research, Government Printing Press. Marsa - Malta.

  • Farrugia, S. (2000). Attitudes of a select group of public service employees to the use and abuse of drugs. University of Malta - Unpublished document

  • Farrugia, S. (2011). Personal Communication

  • Lifestyle Survey 2007. National Statistics Office, (2009). Malta.

  • Marchand Agius, C. (2011). Personal Communication.

  • Soler, J. K. (2011). Personal Communication

  • Vella, N. & Gauci, M. (1997). Drugs and Alcohol at the Workplace: Managerial Attitudes, Sedqa Work Place

Acts and Legal Notices:

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