Reducing the costs of alcohol in the workplace: the case for employer policies
AbstractMore than 90% of the UK workforce drink alcohol and as many as 30% of male employees and 23% of female employees could be consuming quantities above ‘safe limits’. Survey results also indicate that the vast majority of dependent drinkers are in employment, Current evidence suggests that alcohol consumption, in or out of work time, can result in lower productivity, increased absenteeism and sickness absence, and increased accident rates. The annual value of industrial days lost though alcohol consumption in the UK since 1987 is estimated to be over £1.7 billion, excluding the value of lost productivity, accidents and injury. Alcohol acts as a depressant, impairing reasoning, memory, perception, balance and coordination skills even at very moderate levels of consumption. Physical and intellectual ability decline as more alcohol is consumed either at work or at leisure. In the longer run, continued consumption can lead to disease, emotional and social problems, chronic illness and even premature death. Because the majority of drinkers are in employment, these effects will have an impact in the workplace. Some adverse consequences at work are related to excessive alcohol misuse by a minority of employees, but most are associated with the moderate but inappropriate drinking behaviour of the majority. Existing evidence implies that alcohol is involved in at least one fifth of all UK industrial accidents. The probability of an accident increases six fold for the average man who has consumed two pints of beer, and risk-taking behaviour increases and decision making skills decrease even with low levels of consumption. One in ten men and one in twenty women report feelings the effects of a hangover at work and in one UK study, a quarter of all of the men interviewed reported regular lunchtime drinking. Up to 60% of USA corporations have introduced formal workplace policies of different types in order to reduce employment costs associated with alcohol consumption. However, less than 20% of UK firms have taken similar action. Workplace policies are designed to identify problem drinkers at an early stage and to provide treatment, avoiding the need for disciplinary procedures. Although many USA studies have shown workplace policies to be cost-effective, some studies report conflicting results using different definitions of successful outcome and policy goals. Many studies suffer from statistical defects and the poor definition of appropriate policy goals. The economic case for increasing the number and type of workplace policies in the UK cannot be confirmed without a consistent framework for evaluating cost-efficiency. Evidence of employment costs associated with alcohol consumption are examined in this paper and the need for further information identified. A framework for evaluating costs and benefits is outlined as a basis for future policy discussion, and the economic evaluation of alcohol workplace policies in the UK.
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Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by Centre for Health Economics, University of York in its series Working Papers with number 068chedp.
Length: 52 pages
Date of creation: Jul 1990
Date of revision:
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