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What are intoxicants and what information should be included in an intoxicants policy?
Under Section 13 of the Safety Health & Welfare at Work Act, 2005 an employee shall, while at work, ensure that they are not under the influence of an intoxicant to the extent that they may endanger their own safety or the safety of others. The definition of intoxicant in the Act, defines the term “intoxicant” as including drugs or alcohol or a combination of both. It therefore includes alcohol, prescribed drugs, over the counter medication and illegal substances.

Intoxicants Policy
In line with legislation, every organisation should consider drawing up a policy, and include or refer to it in its safety statement. Having an intoxicant policy in place means that employee incidents involving intoxicants, even if isolated, can be dealt with properly, and the potential difficulties of an ad hoc response avoided. The policy may or may not include testing. Where testing is part of the policy, it may include with-cause testing only or alternatively, in organisations where the risk of such problems is significantly higher, random (unannounced) testing of employees may be part of the policy.
There are differing and conflicting views on the appropriateness and efficacy of testing regimes. In some cases, it is only considered relevant to safety-critical roles and, moreover, better approached from the perspective of medical fitness to work rather than specifically related to alcohol or drugs. There are three types of testing that can arise
  • pre-employment testing
  • random testing
  • with-cause testing
An intoxicants policy would normally:
  • define the objective of the policy
  • clearly define what constitutes a serious breach under the policy
  • describe how decisions will be reached in suspected cases of intoxicants use, if testing is not utilised
  • indicate the disciplinary action that will be taken
  • outline the assistance for addiction
  • apply to everyone within the organisation
  • define searching policy and limitations (if applicable)
  • outline the company approach to reporting of possession of illicit drugs and disciplinary action.
If a manager or supervisor considers an employee to be under the influence of an intoxicant for whatever reason, it is essential that they do not permit them to commence work until such time as they are satisfied the person is in a fit state to do so. This may mean confronting the person about whom they have a concern. A policy on intoxicants outlining the approach to be adopted will be most beneficial in such a circumstance. If considered necessary to send them home, transport should be arranged. They should not be permitted to drive themselves. Recurring incidents, involving breach of this policy by the same individual, should invoke more serious disciplinary action. Careful consideration needs to be given by employers to the level of support they provide in relation to employees with problems in this area. For example, where, upon the intervention of an employer, an employee is found to be suffering from an addiction, there are implications in the context of discrimination. In developing a policy, whether it includes testing or not, consultation with employees is recommended.

Ibec has produced further guidance on developing an intoxicants policy and testing for intoxicants in the workplace which is available to members below. In addition the HSA has produced a set of FAQ's relating to Intoxicants in the Workplace.
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