Tackling Alcohol Misuse in the Construction Industry

What is a British summertime without long lazy days filled with barbeques, long awaited holidays and a summer of sports? Strawberries and cream, ice-creams by the beach and an ice cold drink accompanying an evening meal.  It all sounds so idyllic, but that drink will not only accompany an evening meal, it may also accompany a lunch time meal and it may not be only one drink.

According to the Government Official Statistics (published 2023), alcohol and substance misuse is one of the biggest contributors to ill-health, disability and death in the UK.  In 2015 in the construction industry alone, 9000 deaths (mainly men) were reported where alcohol was cited as the main factor. Nationally, the stats are stacked against alcohol misuse, with 20,970 (for the period 2021 – 2022) alcohol related deaths in England alone – that is 38.5 per 100 000 people.  Of that, 7 872 deaths were wholly caused by chronic liver disease and a further 7 556 from other alcohol related deaths, including suicide.

The problems associated with alcohol misuse is both caused by and exacerbated by mental health, working conditions, financial burdens and domestic life.  A recent study by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) found that over 60% of construction professionals in the UK had witnessed colleagues under the influence of alcohol or drugs on construction sites.  

A study by YouGov revealed that 55% of British people start drinking before the age of 15. Many of those young people will go on to work in industry, such as the Construction Industry and being part of a culture where there is a need to fit in, drinking may continue into adulthood.  Diseases such as: pancreatitis, hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, hypertension and anemia will increase as their bodies cannot cope with the effects of too much alcohol.  Young people are also more susceptible to not understanding limits or knowing when to stop.  The earlier a person starts drinking, the more damage there is.

Alcohol misuse invariably never only affects the drinker, but will always affect families (according to the AA, it is estimated that 920,000 children in Great Britain are living in a home where one or both parents misuse alcohol), communities, health workers, emergency services and the economy.  Damage to the drinker and their loved ones will be inevitable, but stigmatising the person is not going to solve the problem. 

In the construction industry, over 1/3 of fatalities and accidents on site were the result of alcohol misuse or from hangovers.  Alcohol misuse leads to impaired judgment, reduced alertness, decreased productivity and distorted risk assessments, which leads to corner cutting and accidents.  As an industry, we need more screening and educational approaches to the health and wellbeing of our employees.  We need to have clear and coherent discussions around working conditions and we need to break down the stereotypical barriers within the industry.  If we want an industry that goes from strength to strength, we need to invest in the people.

If you are affected by alcohol misuse, there are avenues you can venture down.  Your GP is your first port of call, but if you would prefer, here are some places where help would be available: http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/ ; http://www.al-anonuk.org.uk/ ; https://www.wearewithyou.org.uk/ ; http://www.adfam.org.uk/

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