Published on January 29th, 2014 | by Nottingham Drinker0
Alcohol and work – what works?
Nick Tegerdine discusses the need for openness.
Alcohol is frequently associated with accidents, and when this is mentioned the mind instinctively drifts towards road traffic accidents. Unfortunately there’s more to it than that. Alcohol related accidents happen on the road, at home, and at work. The East Midlands comes near the top of some European league tables, not for football these days obviously, but for accidents in the home for example. These range from a cut finger when trying to emulate TV chefs chopping techniques, to fatalities when someone tumbles through a glass door or window. However, an issue that deserves some exploration is that of alcohol at work. This issue has been neglected for a long time.
Many readers will remember the bar at work, whilst others may be aghast that such things existed. They certainly did and were often subsidised. A couple of pints at lunchtime and then back to your factory lathe, like Arthur Seaton, the hero of Sillitoe’s novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Arthur, being the survivor that he was (or perhaps I should say is) did not have an accident at work, although in the film, and no doubt in real life, he did tumble headlong down the stairs of the White Horse on Ilkeston Road after ‘a few jars’. Those who know the film will recall the quote “All I’m out for is a good time, all the rest is propaganda”. There’s no propaganda here from me when it comes to alcohol at work, and the risks involved. What I shall do here is ask some questions, and then offer a tried and tested solution.
Does what you do in your own time have anything to do with work? It does if you are unable to work safely and by that you endanger others.Recently a pilot was escorted from a plane at Leeds-Bradford airport with a blood alcohol concentration nearly three times the UK limit for driving. Train, tram, bus and crane drivers are in a similar position, and last year an ambulance driver was found to be over the limit behind the wheel. I’ve also dealt with firemen, refuse truck drivers, and yes, policemen and women.
Is it all about transport then? No, a legal professional defending you in court after a night on the town is not good. I have also dealt with the case of more than one doctor, and famously, a surgeon who needed a drink to steady the hands before operating. Is it just about drink? What about drugs? The same applies. Anything that alters the way you think, feel or behave is a drug, and that includes alcohol. If your perception is altered, if your reactions are slowed, if you are overtired, then the risk of harm to others increases.
The solution is firstly, not to do the worst thing that you can do, which is nothing. If you think that a colleague or a family member is misusing alcohol or any other substance, challenge it. This is how the case of the surgeon was brought into the open, by family and colleagues ‘raising the alarm’.
Next, don’t rely on giving advice about units and so on. There’s little evidence that it does harm but little evidence that it changes anything. If someone starts the day with vodka before breakfast, they know they have a problem and they have become very good indeed at hiding it. That’s until the forklift truck drops the load, or the car hits the motorway bridge, then there is no hiding place left. Here’s the big one, the example to illustrate the issues, it shows what needs to happen for an effective solution to alcohol misuse at work. I will tell it as a story.
One fine and cheerful morning I took a call from the MD of a major manufacturing company in Nottingham. Their identity will be protected. The caller was very mad indeed, and yelled and yelled for a few minutes. When the anger had subsided a little I heard from him that his ‘number two and best mate’ had ploughed the company BMW into a bridge whilst driving to troubleshoot a job near Leeds. The MD was angry and demanded to know what we had been doing since “my most trusted employee has been seeing you lot for over a year”. The trouble was that he hadn’t but he had told his best mate and employer that he had. That he had been getting help with his excessive drinking from us. He had in fact visited only once, and left without disclosing any personal details and telling us that he had been ‘sent’ by his employer. He did collect some literature on the way out, as evidence of attendance if you like.
The point is, and it is a simple one, to deal with alcohol or drugs at work, you need a stool with three legs. We all know how useful the two legged version is after all. Information has to be shared between the drinker, the employer, and the treatment agency. If it isn’t, cars hit things, bad decisions are made, cranes fall over on building sites, production lines are halted as people hunt for someone’s fingers, and more besides. We have extensive experience of working in this way. Psychosocial and medical interventions, where needed, are all part of the package of care that does make a difference. It is the way that works. If the employee has an issue but wants the job, and the employer wants to keep the employee, then the prognosis is very favourable. As a general rule, the more youhave to lose then the better your chances of a successful recovery.
If you or your employee is concerned, please ring us in complete confidence. Remember that the most common disability in the workplace is addiction, and that it is wise to try and deal with it as a disability issue rather than simply initiating a disciplinary process.
This is a serious topic. Lives are lost, unnecessarily, every year because someone who could have done something did nothing. Now, onto something completely different. In my last article I commented unfavourably on the efforts of Erewash Borough Council and the Derbyshire Police to reduce alcohol related harm through a beer mat campaign. I am pleased that a lot of correspondence resulted from my words, and hopefully some sustained positive action in dealing with irresponsible retailing and street drinking in Erewash. I would also hope that a meaningful debate about what needs to be done will follow. I’ll let you know, but perhaps the most pleasing thing to happen as a result of my criticism was a call from a licensee of a local pub thanking me for ‘talking sense’. Let’s now see what lessons are learned by the powers that be in Erewash and elsewhere.