Are your ‘Friday afternoon drinks’ encouraging a culture of drinking?

Alcohol - []

Alcohol consumption in the workplace and during working hours is in contravention of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act.

Many organisations have a ‘Friday drinks’ tradition where employees gather and drink after work at the end of the week. A lot of organisations even supply the alcohol and may even have snacks or a braai as part of this event. While such events have their place and are an enjoyable end to the week for many, ensuring that these popular social events do not encroach on working hours or cause health and safety issues is essential. 

The tradition of Friday drinks is a popular social and bonding exercise however, it can also be hazardous and is potentially in contravention of organisational health and safety policies. A responsible approach is very important, and requires the consideration of a number of different aspects.

Firstly, in order to effectively ‘cover their bases’, organisations need to include such events in company policies. If social events that allow for the consumption of alcohol are not included in policies, a loophole is created that could introduce risk and liability. It is also a contradiction to disallow alcohol consumption yet let people drink at the workplace on certain days, which makes it difficult to dismiss employees for drinking on the job. It can create problems with legal defence in case of any issues, since organisations cannot prove that they acted responsibly if there are inconsistencies with policy.

A clause should be inserted into company policy specifying that alcohol consumption is only permitted at these specific times. The clause also needs to state that employees may not return to work after consuming alcohol, and that it is the responsibility of the employee to ensure that they remain within the legal limit. Finally, the clause needs to state that consumption of alcohol is purely voluntary and employees partake in such events of their own free will.

Employees need to know that they need to remain under the legal limit, and are not permitted to go back to work after consuming alcohol, as this contravenes the OHS Act. Alcohol consumption in the workplace increases the risk of accidents and creates unnecessary liability and mistakes.

It is also important to ensure that the organisation can prove that they are both socially and professionally responsible when it comes to events involving alcohol. A responsible approach should include an educational programme to ensure employees are aware of the effects and consequences of alcohol consumption.

Some examples of information that could be provided includes the volume of alcohol in different beverages that legally constitutes one drink, and how different body weights, body compositions and genders affected alcohol absorption. Practical examples such as the fact that 130ml of wine containing 12% alcohol is one drink, but if the wine has 14% alcohol then one drink is only 110ml. The importance of eating before or during alcohol consumption can also be emphasised, as this slows the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. Ultimately the goal is to ensure that employees know how to be safe while still enjoying the benefits of social and networking events.

(Ed: As most employees drive home after Friday drinks, could the company be jointly liable if the employee was involved in an accident caused by intoxication? Should the company be encouraging drinking and driving?)