FEB 13 1998
Moderate drinkers 'cause most damage in workplace'
CONTRARY to popular belief, it is the moderate drinkers, and
not hard-core alcoholics, who cause the most damage at the
work-place, says a new United Nations report.
According to the draft report prepared for the International
Labour Organisation (ILO), studies conducted in a number of
countries show that 70 to 80 per cent of alcohol-related incidents
can be traced to moderate drinkers who consume low amounts of
alcohol prior to or at work.
One reason for these incidents, such as accidents, quarrels and
absenteeism, is the sudden intoxication caused by one drink too
many, says the study.
More importantly, the number of moderate drinkers is much
higher than that of heavy drinkers, who may in turn develop
physical tolerance and other mechanisms to mask their
The study also contradicts many other popular beliefs, such as
alcohol and drug abuse is higher among certain sections of the
population, like the unemployed.
While alcohol addiction is high among the unemployed, the ILO's
drug and alcohol prevention senior adviser Behrouz Shahandeh
estimates that 65 to 70 per cent of the problem drinkers are to be
found among those employed.
Although those working in sectors like food and beverage,
transportation and maritime services are more vulnerable to
become alcohol and drug abusers, this problem is not confined to
The study says that high rates of alcohol use have been observed
among lawyers, company directors, military personnel, the
medical profession, and military personnel and police officers.
The report also cites other studies conducted in a number of
countries which have found high rates of drug abuse among
doctors, nurses, pilots as well as among lorry drivers and
Countries such as the United States have done extensive studies
on the problem of alcohol and drug abuse.
One study reported that 9 per cent of the country's workforce are
heavy drinkers while between 2 and 15 per cent are said to be
taking alcohol or drugs shortly before or while at work.
More than -1/3 of European employers interviewed for a recent
study claimed that alcohol abuse was a major cause for
absenteeism, impaired performance and reduced motivation.
The ILO report claims that the economic costs of alcohol abuse
amounted to US$70 billion (S$113 billion) a year in the US and
US$3.4 billion in Australia.
Traditionally, it was left to the employee to seek help for his or
But officials at the ILO and the UN Drug Control Programme
(UNDCP) here have been looking at a different angle: the
involvement of management in cooperation with trade unions and
other organisations to act and assist before an employee becomes
addicted to alcohol or drugs.
A two-day meeting held in Geneva last week to review a five-year
programme concluded that the promotion of prevention projects
at the workplace and the inclusion of it as a management concern
as part of total quality management had been successful.