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Alcohol Use and Abuse in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers

Alcohol is one of the most widely used drugs in Canada. Studies show that over 75% of us enjoy a drink at least occasionally (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 2012). Although there is nothing inherently wrong with moderate alcohol use, it can become deadly when individuals become addicted to the substance. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (2012) estimates that 10% of Canadians struggle with alcoholism at some point in their lives, and around four to five million Canadians routinely engage in risky drinking behaviours (Health Canada, 2014).

Although the development of an alcohol addiction can happen to anybody, there are a few important predicting factors. Men are more likely than women to become addicted to alcohol, as are people who have a high tolerance for the substance (i.e. it takes a higher dose for them to achieve the desired effects). Certain industries also have higher levels of alcoholism among workers. These industries include food service, construction, mining and drilling, and excavation. If you work in these industries, it is especially critical that you take steps to protect yourself and your employees and coworkers from dangerous situations.

As you probably know, alcoholism can have a devastating effect on an individual’s physical and emotional wellbeing. It can also lead to high-risk situations in the workplace. Drinking in inappropriate situations, like while at work, is a tell-tale sign of alcoholism. Workers who struggle with alcoholism are more likely to engage in the following counterproductive behaviours:

  • Be repeatedly late or absent from work
  • Have injury-related absences
  • Make WCB claims
  • Engage in workplace theft
  • Be less efficient at their jobs
  • Experience interpersonal problems with coworkers or supervisors
    (NCADD, 2016).

Accidents are far more likely to occur when an individual is under the influence of alcohol. If you suspect that a person is inebriated at work, it is not safe to allow them to continue working; if necessary, notify a supervisor to arrange emergency onsite alcohol testing.

How Much is Too Much?

A person’s level of intoxication is measured in terms of blood alcohol concentration (BAC). A person with a BAC of 0.08% is considered legally drunk; however, most workplace policies call for the discipline or termination of employees with BACs of 0.04% or more. “Zero tolerance” work environments are much stricter; in workplaces that enforce zero tolerance policies, an employee can be terminated for having a BAC of even 0.001% (OHS Health and Safety Service, 2016). These cut-offs are usually determined by the employer’s preference. Alcohol affects different people in different ways, and the effects are determined by the person’s age, sex, height and weight, and a number of other factors. Below are some general effects that can occur at each blood alcohol level:

  • With a BAC of 0.01-0.05%: The person will experience loss of judgement and coordination, and may experience rapid mood and behaviour changes.
  • With a BAC of 0.05-0.08%: Speech becomes slurred, and the person experiences a noticeable loss of physical coordination. A person in this range is up to three times more likely to cause an accident.
  • With a BAC of over 0.08%: Functioning is seriously impaired and the risk of an accident is extremely high.

(Courtesy of OHS Health and Safety, 2016.)

Employers are strongly advised to use this information when deciding where the cut-off for BAC should be and when determining other alcohol-related workplace policies. Some workplace accidents are unavoidable, but alcohol-related incidents can always be prevented with the right insight and resources. Don’t let your workplace become a statistic!

SureHire helps you keep your workplace safe and accident free. To learn more about our alcohol testing services, please click here.


Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2012). Alcohol. Retrieved from

Health Canada (2014). Alcohol. Health Concerns. Retrieved from

NCADD. (2016). Drugs and alcohol in the workplace. About Addiction. Retrieved from

OHS Health and Safety Services. (2016). Blood alcohol levels. OHS Inc. Retrieved from