alcohol in the workplace

An important note for landscape professionals; there is no legal limit for alcohol levels in the landscape industry – regardless of job role.

Whilst The 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act states employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees in relation to alcohol at work, there is no direct legislation in the UK which requires a company to implement alcohol policies in the workplace. BALI's Technical Officer (Policy & Research) Owen Baker investigates the matter further.

A BALI member, who discussed an incident with BALI's Technical Officer, that resulted in one of his employees being thrown off the site on which he was working.

Earlier last year, all workers on the building construction site on which the employee was working were subjected to a random drugs and alcohol test. The employee was significantly below the UK drink drive alcohol limit, but above the site-specific limit. He was removed from site permanently.

Drink driving has increasingly become a social taboo in the UK. Since the 1970’s, when alcohol accounted for over annual 1000 fatal road collisions in the UK, this figure has now fallen significantly to 240. Few would attempt to drive whilst over the legal alcohol limit, but if it’s legal to drive with less than the legal limit in your body, is it not OK to carry out your job whilst under the driving limit also? Drinking is a widely accepted social norm, and few employers would begrudge their workers an occasional drink, surely?

The most important message to be taken from this article, is that there is no legal limit for alcohol levels in the landscape industry – regardless of job role. Whilst The 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act states employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees in relation to alcohol at work, there is no direct legislation in the UK which requires a company to implement alcohol policies in the workplace. The management of any company may set its own limit, which is enforceable according to site or job role. This limit may be detailed during a site or company induction, but it’s worth seeking clarification if it isn’t.

                               Alcohol in the workplace

The only professions whose alcohol limits are enshrined in legislation are listed in the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003. This stipulates a maximum level of alcohol for professions including aviation, rail and shipping. For example, the maximum permitted level of alcohol in the breath of a pilot is just 9 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres, compared to the UK driving limit of 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres. This is clearly a low threshold, but justifiably so, given the potential consequences of an alcohol-induced mistake at 33,000ft.

It is this potential risk of injury that has led many employers, and particularly site managers, to adopt a zero-tolerance approach (i.e. zero alcohol in the system of an individual) to alcohol. Even at blood alcohol concentrations lower than the legal driving limit, research has shown alcohol can reduce physical co-ordination and reaction speeds, and on a construction site, there is a clear potential risk of injury to operatives and third parties if these abilities are impaired.

Employees have responsibilities under The Health and Safety at Work Act to take reasonable care of themselves and others, but it is essential employees and site managers make employees aware of the risks, and the limits enforced.