This project described the quantity and patterns of drug and alcohol consumption among workers in the fishing and farming industries and identified strategies to reduce their risk of drug and alcohol related harm and improve workplace safety. One hundred and forty five farm and fishing workers/contractors, partners of workers and community leaders across six research sites completed interviews and surveys between November 2010 and May 2011.
Alcohol was used at moderate to high risk or dependent levels by around 44% of study participants. This is considerably higher than in the general Australian population where 16% of rural dwellers are moderate to high risk drinkers (ABS 2006). Research participants described the biggest impact of alcohol consumption as losing their driver’s licence. Other problems described included spending too much money and being hung over at work. Illicit drugs were used by some people in the industry. Cannabis was the most common (12.7%) followed by amphetamines (8.5%). 20% of participants reported working under the influence of illicit drugs during the past 12 months. Tobacco was used by 36% of study participants and was the drug that caused participants most concern.
Most participants described substance use problems as the individual’s responsibility and that they had to help themselves. There was limited awareness of the way community support for heavy drinking encouraged high risk alcohol consumption. Employees are unlikely to seek healthcare, when they do their conditions are usually serious. Access to substance use and mental health services is limited and inconsistent. Help for problematic substance use is made more inaccessible because problems are minimised, hidden or ignored.
Problematic substance use, especially alcohol, goes to the heart of industry productivity even though most people do not connect out of work substance use with workplace health and safety. Employers need advice and support to address substance use, particularly alcohol, directly with employees and to develop work place practices that discourage alcohol use.
Authors: Julaine Allan, Peter Meister, Anton Clifford, Kerri Whittenbury, Margaret Alston, Patrick Ball