Case for Change

In 2008/09, 25% of New Zealand drinkers said they had consumed alcohol in the workplace or at meetings.

Less than 10% of drinkers in a 2012/13 survey said that they had worked while under the influence of alcohol in the last 12 months. This was higher among some ethnic groups.

Every year, 147,500 adults take one or more days off work or school due to their alcohol use (males more than females).

A total of 84,400 adults have experienced harmful effects on their work, study or employment because of alcohol.

The impact of alcohol on lost productivity was estimated to be $1.8 billion in 2005/06. 

In New Zealand, employers have legal obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to protect workers from health and safety risks and minimise hazards.

Workplaces can play a major role in changing our drinking culture and protecting employees from harm.

Drinking in the workplace

The only New Zealand survey which specifically asks about workplace drinking is the 2008/09 NZ Alcohol and Drug Use Survey [1]. In this national survey, 25.4% of past-year drinkers aged 16–64 had consumed alcohol in workplaces or meetings.

The 2012/13 NZ Health Survey [2] asks about location of drinking, but combines the workplace with university, polytechnic and school settings.


Working under the influence of alcohol

The 2012/13 New Zealand Health Survey [2] asked NZ drinkers if they had worked while under the influence of alcohol in the last 12 months. They found that:

  • 6.8% responded 'yes' - This equates to about 165,000 drinkers (8.8% males, 4.6% females)

Thirteen percent of Pacific and 12% of Māori drinkers who had worked in the past year reported working at least once when under the influence of alcohol compared with 6.5% of European/Other and 4.7 % of Asian drinkers in the past year.


Operating machinery under the influence of alcohol

The 2012/13 survey also found that 3.3% of drinkers who had operated machinery did so at least once while under the influence of alcohol in the past year. This equates to around 65,000 drinkers.

[1] Ministry of Health. 2009. Alcohol Use in New Zealand: Key results of the 2007/08 New Zealand Alcohol and Drug Use Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

[2] Ministry of Health. 2015. Alcohol Use 2012/13. New Zealand Health Survey. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

Read about the range of alcohol harms that impact on the workplace

IMPACT OF DRINKING ON THE WORKPLACE

Alcohol consumption has serious implications for both employers and employees in workplaces. This can range from death and injury as a result of impairment, to absenteeism, lost productivity and general low workforce morale.

  • Every year, 147,500 adults take one or more days off work or school due to their alcohol use [39].
  • A total of 84,400 adults have experienced harmful effects on their work, study or employment because of alcohol [39].
  • In 2012, 6% of adolescent drinkers report having their work or school affected in the last year due to alcohol. Among those students living in the most deprived areas, 8% report problems with work or school (exacerbating existing inequities in outcomes) [40].

Loss of labour output to New Zealand Society

Labour cost for lost output accounted for around $1.8 billion in New Zealand society [18]. Three-fifths of this amount ($1.1 billion) was due to excess unemployment. This was followed by premature death ($0.46 billion) as a result of harmful alcohol use [18]. Over 80% of cost due to premature death were for males [18].


Loss productivity to employers

Male drinkers (4%) were 1.6 times more likely to absence from work or study than female drinkers (2.5%) [3]; and male drinkers (6.9%) were 1.4 times more likely to experience financial effects than female drinkers [2]. 

In New Zealand, employers have legal obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 to ensure that workers and others are given the highest level of protection from workplace health and safety risks, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes risks to both physical and mental health.

Employers can support employees by providing the following programmes [11]:

  • Support them to seek brief intervention;
  • Adopt workplace health and lifestyle checks;
  • Support psychosocial skills training;
  • Peer referral for problem drinking.

The Act also has responsibilities from employees to eliminate, isolate and minimise all significant hazards. Under the Act, a hazard includes behaviour that can cause harm to others. This could mean behaviours which occur under the influence of alcohol use.