Spain- EWCO CAR on Use of Alcohol/Drugs at the Workplace

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  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Health and well-being at work,
  • Working conditions,
  • Published on: 07 May 2012

Jessica Duran and Antonio Corral

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.

The use of alcohol and drugs among Spanish working population is more common in sectors such as “catering trade” and “construction”, as well as among those workers with the worst labour conditions. With regard to Spanish legislation, there are limited references to alcohol and drug issues, although some Autonomous Communities have approved specific laws. Moreover, there are particular economic activities or professions where special limitations have been established (especially concerning dangerous activities). Finally, in Spain, social partners play an active role in the implementation of prevention programmes, where trade unions, employers’ organizations and public representatives frequently collaborate.


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

Since 1995, and every two years, the Spanish Observatory on Drugs (“Observatorio Español sobre Drogas”, belonging to the Ministry of Health, Social Policy and Equality) has carried out the “Household Survey about Alcohol and Drugs in Spain” (“Encuesta Domiciliaria sobre Alcohol y Drogas en España –EDADES”), aimed at studying the use and beliefs of the Spanish population with regard to drugs.

From the period 2007-2008 onwards, a new specific module exclusively aimed at working population was included in this survey. Thus, the “2007-2008 Survey on the consumption of psychoactive drugs at the workplace in Spain” (“Encuesta 2007-2008 sobre el consumo de sustancias psicoactivas en el ámbito laboral en España”) is the main national statistical source on this issue. The survey is aimed at potentially active people aged 16 to 64, and it was conducted among 15,071 persons.

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.

Concerning other sources, the ISTAS (“Trade Union Institute for Work, Environment and Health”, belonging to CCOO Trade union) published in 2006 the report “Perception and attitude of Spanish companies regarding alcohol and other drugs”, based on a survey carried out among 327 companies.

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

According to the “2007-2008 Survey on the consumption of psychoactive drugs at the workplace in Spain”, consumption levels of alcohol/drugs among working population are similar to the levels among the Spanish population in general. For all substances, except for hypnosedatives, men consume higher amounts than women. The following table provides an overview of the percentage of people who have consumed drugs in the previous 12 months, by gender:

Table 1. % of interviewed workers who have consumed each substance in the previous 12 months, by gender






Tranquilizers (hypnosedatives)



Soporifics (hypnosedatives)















Source: “2007-2008 Survey on the consumption of psychoactive drugs at the workplace in Spain”. Spanish Observatory on Drugs.

The report reveals that alcohol is the most consumed psychoactive substance. 5.0% of men and 2.3% of women are considered to be high risk consumers (more than 30 cc/day for women and more than 50 cc/day for men). Daily consumption is more common among older workers, whereas binge drinking is more frequent among younger ones.

Cannabis is the most consumed illegal drug among both general and working population in Spain, followed by cocaine (powdered). The consumption of illegal drugs is more common among younger people (aged 16-34), and especially among men. Data show that 23.8% of the working men aged 16-34 have consumed cannabis over the last 12 months, in contrast with 6.7% of the working men aged 35-64.

With regard to economic sectors, drugs are more commonly consumed in “HORECA” and “construction” sectors, although “transport” and “commerce” are also characterized by high consumption levels. For instance, 18.8% of the working men in the “HORECA” sector and 18.1% of the working men in the “construction” sector have consumed cannabis over the last 12 months. Meanwhile, alcohol is highly consumed among primary sector workers (which includes agriculture, cattle farming, fishing, and mining). Thus, 7.9% of the men working in primary sector activities are considered high-risk alcohol consumers, followed by 7.8% of the men in “HORECA” and 7.3% in “construction”. Conversely, lowest levels correspond to “public administration, education and health”, where the percentage goes down to 2.5% of the men.

On the other hand, alcohol and hypnosedatives are more frequently consumed among directors and managers, whereas illegal drugs are more common among low-level occupations. Thus, for instance, 2.8% of the women working as “directors and professionals” can be considered as high-risk alcohol consumers, in contrast with 1.9% of the women among the administrative personnel. Moreover, 5.4% of the non-qualified manual working men have consumed cocaine in the last 12 months, in contrast with 3.6% of the men working as “directors or professionals”.

As well as this, unemployment is also frequently related to drug consumption. For instance, 22.1% of the unemployed men have consumed cannabis over the last 12 months, in contrast with 12.3% of the employed men. As well as this, 8.6% of the unemployed women have consumed hypnosedatives over the last 30 days, in comparison to 6.6% of the employed women.

On the other hand, and from a time dynamic perspective, the report “Perception and attitude of Spanish companies regarding alcohol and other drugs” states that the interviewed managers have the impression that the use of both alcohol and drugs at the workplace among women has increased over the last 10 years (62% of the surveyed with regard to alcohol, and 47% concerning other drugs). Conversely, regarding consumption trends among men, 44% of the surveyed estimate that alcohol is currently consumed in the same levels as 10 years ago, whereas concerning other drugs, 37% think that its use among men has increased.

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

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…)

According to the “Survey 2007-2008 on the consumption of psychoactive drugs at the workplace in Spain”, workers who support dangerous tasks and drudgery (extreme conditions such as hot, cold, bad smells, uncomfortable positions, etc.) are also those who consume more alcohol, hypnosedatives, cannabis and cocaine. As well as this, unsatisfactory employment conditions (such as low salaries and deficient labour safety) are directly linked to high consumption levels of hypnosedatives, cannabis and cocaine. Moreover, cannabis consumption is frequent among workers who carry out high-performance tasks or who are not satisfied with their work.

On the other hand, the report “Perception and attitude of Spanish companies regarding alcohol and other drugs” analyses the reasons why alcohol and other drugs are considered to be a problem for workers. On the one hand, the report states that enterprises see alcohol as a problem especially due to the following reasons: health reasons (mentioned in 65% of the cases), labour conflicts (32%), work accidents (24%) or decrease in productivity (21%). In the case of “other drugs”, reasons for them to be a problem include health reasons (68%), labour conflicts (28%), work accidents (21%) and decrease in productivity (18%).

Finally, according to the article “Alcohol and other drugs consumption at the workplace” (“Consumo de alcohol y otras drogas en el medio laboral” in Spanish), published in the online magazine “Medicine and Work Safety”, from the Ministry of Science and Innovation, 55.7% of the workers consider that alcohol and drugs are an important problem in the labour market. Diseases, work accidents, productivity decrease and bad work environment are the main reasons why alcohol and other drugs are seen as a problem.

This source of information states that in Spain it is estimated that around 15-25% of the labour accidents are due to problems related to alcohol. Heavy alcohol drinkers would have 3 times more accidents at the workplace than other workers, and they also have higher absenteeism due to disease. On the other hand, the use of cannabis or cocaine negatively affects the capacity of developing tasks which require attention and concentration, increasing the risk of work accidents. Moreover, it is stated that around 23-31% of the workers who consume drugs have experienced some negative consequence derived from drug consumption, where 13-15% of these effects are related to work (leaves, absenteeism, work accidents, low labour productivity, etc.).

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

Broadly speaking, the existing Spanish legislation concerning health and safety at the workplace contains limited references to alcohol and drugs issues. The main Spanish Law regulating labour relationships, working conditions, contracts, etc. is the Workers’ Statute (or Law 8/1980, passed in the year 1980, but modified 15 years later through the Royal Decree 1/1995), and the only reference to this issue which appears in this norm refers to the section of “disciplinary dismissals”. More precisely, it is stated that frequent inebriation and drug addiction, if they have negative consequences for work performance, can be a reason for disciplinary dismissal.

Later on, the Spanish Law on Labour Risks Prevention 31/1995 (later modified through the Law 54/2003), gave place to a new preventive culture, where the detection of risks was prioritised in order to avoid accidents to happen, rather than repairing or punishing the accidents which have taken place.

Although there is no legislation at national level which specifically concerns alcohol/drugs use, some Autonomous Communities have approved specific laws regulating alcohol and drugs consumption at the workplace, such as the following ones:

  • The Autonomous Community of La Rioja passed in 2001 the “Law 5/2001 about drug dependence and other addictions”, which establishes the basis for prevention policies. Moreover, it defends keeping the post of the worker while he/she is undergoing medical treatment against his/her addiction, therefore trying to avoid disciplinary dismissals.

  • Likewise, the “Law 5/2002 about drug dependence and other addictive disorders” of the Autonomous Community of Madrid includes a section which refers to the workplace in particular. This law also promotes the maintenance of the work post of those workers whose drug/alcohol addiction is being treated, as well as the implementation of prevention plans where trade unions, employers’ organizations and health and safety committees should jointly take part.

  • Moreover, the Law 18/1998 on Prevention, Assistance and Insertion regarding Drug-dependence passed in the Basque Country (and later modified by the Law 1/2011) prohibits the use of alcohol by professionals working in posts such as: drivers, teachers for students younger than 18 years, health services, police or military services (or any other which implies the use of weapons) and, in general, all activities where the influence of alcohol could derive in risks for the worker or for third parties.

Finally, it can be pinpointed that some norms which regulate specific labour activities, as well as some collective agreements, may establish particular limitations on alcohol or drugs consumption at the workplace. These limitations are particularly significant for workers who manage dangerous materials or high tension infrastructure, carry out tasks related to public safety or transport, etc.

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

Workplace alcohol/drug testing can be a relatively controversial issue, as it may affect workers’ intimacy protection. In this sense, and concerning workers’ privacy respect, the Workers’ Statute, (or Law 8/1980) establishes the right to privacy and dignity of workers. Additionally, the “Royal Legislative Decree 5/2000 on labour infractions and sanctions” states that the employers’ acts which are contrary to workers’ privacy respect or which have no due consideration to workers’ dignity, shall be considered as a “serious infraction”.

HOwever, there is no specific national legislation concerning workplace drug testing. In this respect, it is interesting to remark that, according to the Spanish Law on Labour Risks Prevention 31/1995, companies must guarantee workers’ health and safety and implement all the measures required for it, such as medical tests. However, medical examinations (and therefore alcohol/drug tests) can only take place if the worker gives his/her authorisation for it, so that workers’ right to privacy and confidentiality is respected.

As an exception, the worker’s consent will not be required in the cases where examinations are strictly necessary to evaluate the effects of working conditions on the worker’s health, or to verify if the worker’s physical condition can be dangerous for his/her own safety or for the safety of other persons related to the company. In any case, these tests or examinations should be proportional to the risk level and they should cause the least trouble to workers. Moreover, it must be pinpointed that medical examinations and tests can also be approved trough specific regulations for high risk activities.

In this respect, it is possible to find some norms which exclusively refer to specific economic activities or professions in particular. Thus, the Order FOM/2520/2006 of Titles, Licenses and Authorizations, validated in 2006 by the Ministry of Public Works (“Ministerio de Fomento” in Spanish) determines the conditions and capacities required for workers in the railway sector concerning work safety. Even if this norm concerns only public national companies, it has become a point of reference for the whole of railway companies existing in Spain.

This order contains a section regarding alcohol and drugs testing practices, which establishes that for certain jobs/positions and in order to guarantee safe railway traffic, there are specific tests for detecting the consumption of alcohol, drugs or psychoactive substances. These specific tests are necessary for obtaining the psychophysical aptitude certificate. The worker will be suspended if the tests detect higher than permitted alcohol consumption levels or drugs/ psychoactive substances use.

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.

In Spain, social partners play an active role in the implementation of prevention programmes to combat the use of alcohol/drugs at the workplace. Thus, the main Trade Unions in Spain (CC.OO. and UGT) and CEOE (Spanish employers’ organization) collaborate with the “National Drugs Plan”, which is a national public initiative developed by the Ministry of Health and Social Policy since 1985, aimed at coordinating all the initiatives carried out by different organisations (public administration, social entities, etc.). More precisely, social partners and public representatives of the National Drugs Plan signed in 1997 a “Collaboration Agreement for the prevention of drug dependence at the workplace”. By means of this agreement, the basic principles to face the problem of alcohol and drug use among workers were established, and it was stated that all social partners should collaborate in order to implement different initiatives concerning information, training, promotion of healthy habits, etc.

As well as this, Regional Governments have signed collaboration agreements with the corresponding autonomic divisions of the main trade unions and employers’ organizations, in order to organize activities such as training or information seminars, awareness raising campaigns, distribution of information brochures, etc. In this sense, the “2008 Annual Report” of the National Drugs Plan offers a general idea of the initiatives developed by Autonomous Communities. Among the vast list of activities implemented during that year, it is possible to mention, for example, the following ones:

  • Both the Autonomic Governments of Cantabria and the Canary Islands, together with the corresponding autonomic division of the Trade Union UGT, organised a course on “Drug-dependence prevention” of 30-hour duration for company prevention delegates.

  • The Government of Castilla-la-Mancha, in collaboration with the Trade Union CCOO, developed 53 training activities concerning drug-dependence prevention, where a total of 912 workers took part. Furthermore, 3,000 copies of the guide “Prevention of alcohol use at the workplace” were distributed.

  • In the Autonomous Community of Castilla y León, the regional employers’ organization, the regional trade unions and the autonomous government signed a collaboration agreement for the implementation of intervention plans against drug dependence at the workplace. Among other activities, it is worth mentioning that throughout 2008, 3 local corporations and 8 companies received their support for the implementation of drug-dependence prevention plans.

Moreover, and also within the framework of the National Drugs Plan, the Public Administration has signed numerous agreements with local corporations, third sector entities, etc. Thus, for instance, representatives of the National Drugs Plan annually revalidate a collaboration agreement with the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP, “Federación Española de Municipios y Provincias” in Spanish), aimed at carrying out information and prevention activities at local level. In this sense, and just to give an example, it is worth mentioning the “Framework contract for the prevention and treatment of drug dependence at the workplace”, developed by the Town Council of Burgos.

Finally, with regard to prevention campaigns aimed at specific professions or economic sectors, it is remarkable that several sectoral campaigns have been put into practice by employers’ organizations, trade unions and public representatives. Thus, for instance, social partners have collaborated in the publication of the guide “Alcohol and the sea”, aimed at workers in the fishing sector, where general information, recommendations, etc. are included. As well as this, representatives of the Trade Unions CCOO and UGT, the employers’ organization CEOE and members of the public National Drugs Plan implemented a prevention campaign for the city transport sector.

Interestingly also, the website of the Trade Union UGT has a specific information area dealing with Health and Safety at the workplace, which includes a particular section aimed at drug dependence. Amongst other documents available, it is worth mentioning a Guide for the prevention of drug addictions among penitentiary workers.

As well as this, the CCOO Trade Union has an internal division known as “Services for Citizens” (“Federación de Servicios a la Ciudadanía” in Spanish), which has taken part in different campaigns against the use of alcohol and drugs in the workplace, and which has published a wide variety of health and safety guides for different economic activities. In this sense, several prevention campaigns have been launched, concerning, for instance, the railway sector, for which a guide was published with the support of the public National Drugs Plan. Additionally, the Railway Federation of CCOO, together with the railway company Euskotren, published in 2010 an “Action Plan” against alcohol and other drugs consumption.

Commentary by the NC

The issue of alcohol and drugs use at the workplace has started to be extensively dealt with from the early 90’s onwards, when the Spanish Law on Labour Risks Prevention 31/1995 was passed and companies started to develop the first drug/alcohol prevention programmes. However, the issue of alcohol and drugs consumption at work has been scarcely studied and little research has been conducted till the last few years, when a specific Survey on the consumption of psychoactive drugs at the workplace was launched in 2007. In any case, there is no data available about the actual extension of drug/alcohol prevention programmes amongst Spanish companies.

On the other hand, concerning the controversial issue of drug testing practices, workers’ representatives argue that alcohol/drug tests can be used as an excuse for dismissal. In other words, trade unions strongly claim that these checks must be aimed at promoting health and safety at the workplace, not at setting sanctions. Furthermore, confidentiality and data protection must be guaranteed. Conversely, from the employers’ point of view, the regulations which protect workers’ privacy make it more difficult to efficiently manage health and safety conditions.

Fortunately, it is clear that current trends show that prevention and reinsertion initiatives are more and more common among companies. Thus, companies’ alcohol/drugs plans are not so much aimed at repression, but at improving working conditions and promoting support and insertion.

Jessica Duran and Antonio Corral, Ikei

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