OSHA Regulation for Drinking on the Job

Drinking on the job is a serious safety hazard.

Drinking on the job is a serious safety hazard.

The three-martini lunch passed into history with the passing of the '80s, but drinking on the job has always been passe. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration drove the final nail into the coffin of drinking on the job in an interpretation letter dated May 2, 1998. While OSHA regulations doesn’t address drinking directly, creating a safe workplace falls under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The Law

The General Duty clause of the OSH Act of 1970 requires that employers provide employees with a safe working environment. Two of the challenges employers face in complying with the General Duty clause are leadership and enforcement. The first is to encourage employee compliance with established policies that prohibit drinking on the job. The second challenge is requiring supervisors to take action against impaired employees.

A Recognized Hazard

A safe workplace, according to the OSH Act of 1970, is one that is “free from recognized hazards.” It’s an atmosphere in which employees are free from behaviors “likely to cause death or serious harm.” Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant known to impair a drinker’s mental and physical skills. An environment in which workers are drinking around machinery or moving loads would be unsafe. OSHA refers to “the fatal four” kinds of accident -- falls, electrocutions, being struck by an object and being caught between objects -- in its statistics. Alcohol consumption on the job can increase the potential for these types of accidents.

Challange and Exposure

Overcoming the challenge of getting your employees to comply begins with exposure. OSHA requires you to post the agency’s “Job Health and Safety - It’s the Law” posters in a prominent place, such as a break room, in your business. Create a policy against drinking on the job, if you don’t have one, and incorporate it into your company safety policy. Let your employees know, through safety presentations, that part of providing them with a safe workplace includes their compliance with safety policies -- both OSHA’s and yours -- and includes the policy against drinking alcoholic beverages on the job.

Policy and Help

Creating a company policy against drinking on the job is no more difficult than sitting at a keyboard and declaring that it’s against company policy to drink while on the job. Getting your employees and supervisors to comply with the policy -- including the act of preventing colleagues from working while drinking -- may be the hardest part. Nobody wants to be the heavy that turns in a work mate for drinking alcohol at work, but you must emphasize that it’s a matter of safety, you will enforce the policy and you expect compliance from all. Trade associations and labor organizations can provide you with assistance about educational programs concerning alcohol and drug use.

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About the Author

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.

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