Putting the brakes on drinking this festive season

By Rhys Evans, director, Alco-Safe

We have all seen the carnage of road accidents over the December period, covered across a vast spectrum of media. We have all seen the warnings and we know of the repercussions of getting behind the wheel after drinking, yet still people ignore the laws and find themselves on the roads and over the limit.

It is not only the ‘man on the street’ who succumbs to imbibing over the silly season, it is also our transportation drivers, whether delivering a load from Johannesburg to the harbour or even an inter-city bus service transporting people to their loved ones.

The question of why comes to mind. Why, if we know the repercussions of drinking and driving, do we test fate so openly and irresponsibly? This is more often than not due to a lack of forethought, to exhaustion and the time of year. People generally start to wind down at this time of year. Festive cheer is in the air and even normally well behaved people tend to ignore their better judgement.

This concept of ‘letting go’ does not apply just to office workers. We fail to remember that this is the busiest time of the year for the transportation sector. Yet, these employees too have worked the entire year, driving 18 hour, long distance shifts in a metre-by-metre moving office. They too are faced with end of year fatigue and bottle store discounts. Statistics show that there is an increased number of employees – up to four times the average – who perform their duties under the influence of alcohol over the December period.

Even though companies face the frustrations associated with the festive season, it is important that those in the transportation industry become more vigilant with regards to drinking on the job.

The effects of alcohol are still present in the body for up to seven hours after consumption, and include impaired judgement and concentration, a sickly feeling caused by the lack of sugar in the bloodstream (commonly known as a hangover) and increased fatigue. These symptoms mimic that of an employee that would normally be booked off sick. However, due to the normality of going to work after a night of drinking, these symptoms often become the cause of many accidents.

Companies need to ensure that their employees are adequately educated on the dangers of driving under the influence. Talks and seminars by those who have experienced the aftermath of drinking and driving are an effective measure of prevention.

It is also very important that companies ensure their policies and procedures with regards to testing employees for substances are up to date and that the correct procedures for testing are followed.

Employees must be informed that at any time they may be required to be tested. A good example is the trucking industry, where monitoring of consumption is a challenge while drivers are on the road. The best way to do this is to conduct compulsory testing of employees as they are leaving the site or when they return to the site from a day’s driving, using high speed breathalysers that do not require mouthpieces.

It is not only injury and the loss of life that should compel a company to conduct mandatory alcohol testing. If a company is able to put effective preventative measures in place that reduce accidents caused by drunk driving, they can reduce risk and increase revenue. The combination of education, regular testing and policies can assist in putting the brakes on drinking this festive season.