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Updated 29 May 2013

Alcohol abuse and the workplace

South Africans consume over five billion litres of alcohol per year. If alcohol is abused in the community at large, the effects of this will be felt in the workplace.

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South Africans consume over five billion litres of alcohol per year, according to a study by the Medical Research Council (MRC).

Led by Dr Charles Parry, the MRC study conducted in conjunction with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the University of Cape Town (UCT), revealed that in some communities as many as 30% of the male population and 10 – 15 % of the female population consume more than 30 litres of pure alcohol per year.

Although weekend drinking is particularly prevalent in South Africa, according to all the studies mentioned above, drinking is by no means restricted to the weekends.

If alcohol is abused in the community at large, the effects of this will be felt in the workplace.

According to the American Council for Drug Education:

  • Nearly 3 out of every 4 substance abusers are employed
  • They are five times more likely than other workers to injure themselves or co-workers and cause 40 percent of all industrial fatalities
  • They raise costs and reduce profits
  • They are also ten times more likely to miss work
  • They are five times more likely to file a worker’s compensation claim
  • They are 33% less productive.

Easy access and other contributing factors

Most South Africans have easy access to alcohol. South Africa boasts one liquor outlet (23 000 licensed and 200 000 unlicensed) for every 190 persons in South Africa, according to the MRC report. Other factors contributing to alcohol abuse in South Africa include:

  • Peer pressure
  • Communal drinking among adults
  • Availability, particularly in disadvantaged communities
  • The legacy of the “dop” system, particularly in the Western Cape
  • Ignorance
  • The falling price of certain alcohol products
  • Societal attitudes in general.

Alcohol abuse is particularly prevalent in certain professions, such as among sex workers, workers in the mine industry and workers in the fruit and wine industry, reports the MRC.

Although drinking is less prevalent among them, office workers are by no means excluded from these statistics.

Identifying Alcohol Abusers in the Workplace

It is not always easy to identify alcohol abusers in the workplace, but the American Council for Drug Education states that there are some clues that point to alcohol and possibly drug abuse:

  • Indifference to personal hygiene
  • Exhaustion, hyperactivity, slurred speech, an unsteady walk
  • Unexplained and frequent absences
  • Overreaction to real or imagined criticism
  • Irregular work patterns and low productivity

Intervening when someone at work is drinking

Many people don’t want to be the one who tells the boss that a co-worker is drinking. There are a few reasons why you should:

  • Unless managers know about the problem, they are unable to help by means of involving their employees in programmes that entail counselling and treatment
  • If you are covering up for your fellow-employees, you are protecting them from the consequences of their drinking. This can be to their detriment in the long term
  • You could be jeopardising your own safety or that of other workers.

Where to go for help

South African employers can get information on available treatment programmes for their employees from the South Africa National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (SANCA). SANCA provides mostly one-to-one counselling, and group sessions if requested by a particular company, says Mr Tertius Cronje, industrial consultant for SANCA.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has group meetings in many different locations – 72 just in the Western Cape. Individuals can attend these meetings voluntarily and anonymously. Phone the Helpline on 0861 435722 or send an e-mail to info@aanonymous.org.za for details about meetings in a particular region.

 
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