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How to create a positive reporting culture for drug and alcohol misuse at work

We are all aware of the horrific Eastern Freeway road accident that claimed the lives of four Victorian police officers in 2020, caused when a drug-affected truck driver veered into a lane where the police officers had pulled over a speeding Porsche driver. Read the full story here: The facts of the case clearly evidence that both drivers were severely affected by drugs.

The case of the truck driver raises several issues around the risk of drugs and alcohol at work which we can discuss and learn from. However, in this article, we want to focus on one particular area: the importance of creating a positive culture of reporting concerns about drug and alcohol misuse.

This tragic event provides powerful learnings for employers. In managing the risk of drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace, not only is it important to have a drug and alcohol management system in place, however, it is also absolutely critical to ensure that a culture is created which encourages workers to report any concerns about the misuse of drugs or alcohol by their co-workers.

The reality is colleagues and co-workers often know when someone is ‘not right’ or possibly misusing drugs or alcohol at work. Moreover, they are often very worried about the possible ramifications, including their own and others safety, but don’t always know what to do. So, why not use this? Why not tap into the extra ‘ears on the ground’ to help manage this risk? After all, as the employer, you carry the risk and the consequences that follow.

So, how do you create a positive reporting culture? Here are our top 5 strategies to get started:

  1. Firstly, make sure you have a drug and alcohol management system in place which clearly outlines your policy and procedures to manage drugs and alcohol at work, and includes a relevant testing regime and education and support to your workers, and how to report any concerns;
  2. Secondly, lead from the top: as they say “a fish rots from the head down”. If your leadership team is not on board, you will struggle to get the message any further down the line. If they refuse to get on board, perhaps it’s time for a change?
  3. Thirdly, ensure your leaders, managers, and supervisors are equipped with the right tools and training to address any concerns raised positively. Consider things like the language they use, their body language, and what actions they take after receiving a report;
  4. Fourthly, be careful about setting business KPI’s or metrics that discourage the reporting of risks or hazards. Instead, consider setting a KPI specifically around a positive reporting culture;
  5. And, lastly, provide easy and simple mechanisms for reporting. This could be the ability to report anonymously, or access to a safety representative or HR person to discuss their concerns.

When you have a positive reporting culture, workers will feel comfortable to raise a concern without fear of ramification or punishment; leaders and managers will know how to encourage and support the raising of concerns and take appropriate action before it’s too late, and you will be in a much better place to manage the risk and avoid catastrophic outcomes like the Victorian truck accident.

For more information on how to implement a drug and alcohol management system: click here.

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