Benefits of alcohol testing in transport | Infrastructure news

By Rhys Evans, Director of ALCO-Safe

The trucking and transportation sector is vital to the economic wellbeing of South Africa, ensuring the flow of goods between provinces for both local consumption and export.

However, it is also an industry that sees prevalent use of alcohol and drugs among truck drivers. A comprehensive substance abuse program, which includes on-going random testing and importantly an educational component for employees, is essential in reducing the dangers associated with substance abuse on the roads.

The benefits of such a program lie not only in their ability to reduce risk and liability for employers, but also in improving the lives of their employees. By reducing substance abuse, drivers can become healthier, more alert and more responsible, cause fewer accidents, be more motivated and productive – and educating drivers as to these benefits can greatly improve employee response to alcohol and drug testing policies.

Truck drivers, particularly those who are involved in long-haul transport, face long, lonely hours on the road, often spending days at a time in their truck and sleeping on the side of the road or at truck stops. They are frequently away from their families and must stay awake and alert at all times while driving. This increasingly leads to the use of alcohol and/or drugs as a coping mechanism. The difficulty here is that substance abuse of any type can severely impair a person’s ability to properly operate equipment and vehicles. Alcohol is one of the primary culprits, but drug use, particularly of stimulants, is a growing problem, which when mixed with alcohol consumption can have devastating consequences.

Alcohol is known to reduce concentration and slow reaction time, which are both dangerous factors on the road. In fact, statistics indicate that the likelihood of having an accident increases proportionally with alcohol consumption. At the previous 0.080% legal drink-drive limit, the probability of having an accident is four to five times that of a sober person. At the 0.12% level, it is 12 to 13 times and at the 0.160% level the increased chance is around 30 times. A person weighing 100kg person could reach these levels after consuming 4, 6 or 8 beers respectively, and someone who weighs less would reach them more quickly.

Substance abuse policies and programs should be implemented for a number of reasons, including improving health and safety, compliance with national legislation, reducing losses, increasing productivity and profitability and other benefits for the company, and to provide benefits for employees. Such programs quickly reduce accidents, injuries and deaths while improving the health and wellbeing of employees.

For example, a paper mill introduced an alcohol control program, and only six months later there was an 80% reduction in intoxicated employees reporting for work. Nine months after the company introduced random alcohol testing, disabling injuries were down 52%, non-disabling injuries were down 45%, accidents were down 50%, and all of this was achieved without introducing any other additional safety programmes. The benefits of such a program include not only financial ones resulting from reduced accidents, injuries and downtime, but also improvements to the wellbeing of staff.

Central to such programs is the use of accurate, reliable and easily calibrated Breath Alcohol Detectors in a variety of testing scenarios. These include random testing, whereby individuals are tested at random in a non-discriminatory manner before commencing work, after an accident or incident, and on reasonable suspicion of intoxication. Breathalysers can also be used for on-going monitoring for employees undergoing rehabilitation, for follow-up testing on employees who have previously transgressed, and for compulsory testing for example drivers should always be tested before going on shift.

For employers, the benefits of substance abuse control centre on reduced losses as a result of common alcohol-related problems. Incidents of accident, sickness and absenteeism can be reduced, high employee turnover rates can be reduced, and medical care costs can be lowered.

Employees will exhibit improved judgement and decision-making ability, along with enhanced morale and motivation. There is often also a reduction experienced in chronic lateness and violence. Additionally, insurance premiums can be kept to reasonable levels, and company image improved if alcohol abuse can be reduced.

Effective substance abuse control programs can also deliver significant benefits to employees. Educating employees as to these benefits is essential to success. For example, on-going alcohol abuse contributes heavily to many physical health problems and also to psychological problems such as depression, mood swings and anxiety. Reduced consumption reduces these problems while at the same time reducing accidents, injuries and medical costs.

On-going, regular testing can also reveal the onset of dependency. Rehabilitation, accomplished for example via counselling, can assist in preventing heavy dependency and alcoholism through total addiction. Furthermore, feedback from families has revealed that reduced alcohol consumption at home arising from the need to comply with the employers policy regarding intoxication has created a more harmonious atmosphere with fewer arguments and violence.

Employees and employers are also typically involved in fewer confrontational scenarios, with reduced offenses and disciplinary actions. Improved performance and behaviour at the workplace can lead to better salaries, bonuses and promotion prospects, and employees may be more inclined to undertake additional job-related training or studies. In addition, employee health can benefit considerably from the implementation of an alcohol program, as the list of alcohol-related health problems is extensive. This reduces the amount of sick leave required, which in turn has other knock-on benefits.

Alcohol is well known to have detrimental effects on the body, and is also one of the primary causes of accidents, injuries and fatalities on the roads. The introduction of comprehensive substance abuse policies can help to curb these negative effects, provided employers take the time to educate their employees as to the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse and the benefits of reducing consumption. This creates a more positive reaction to the program, resulting in reduced resistance, which in turn furthers the success rate of such initiatives.

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