Creating an effective drugs and alcohol policy

Is your drugs and alcohol policy as effective as it could be?

Having a drugs and alcohol policy on your vessel is a requirement under the Health and Safety Work Act 2015 (HSWA), so no doubt you already have one in place.

Now might be a good time to review your policy and see if there's room for improvement. We've put together a few ideas to help you.


Policies prevent problems

A policy outlines what is and isn't okay and the consequences of doing something that's not okay. When it comes to drugs and alcohol, it's about working with your crew to create a safe workplace — and doing your best to ensure that everyone makes it back to shore safely.


Here are 8 ways to help make sure your drugs and alcohol policy is effective:

1. Get your crew involved — What does your crew think about your current policy? Is there anything they'd like to change or add? By working on the policy with your crew and getting their buy–in you'll increase the likelihood of them sticking to it. See it as an opportunity to talk openly about drugs and alcohol and to reinforce the dangers of being impaired on board.

2.Explain why you need a policy — A fishing vessel is already a hazardous workplace and impairment can increase the risk of accidents. Explain why a drugs and alcohol policy is so important and that you care about your crew and their safety. Having a drugs and alcohol policy in place — and getting your crew involved in creating and assessing it — reassures your crew that you're committed to maintaining a healthy and safe work environment.

3. Tailor your policy to your vessel — Is your policy written specifically for your vessel's operating conditions? The more specific it is, the more effective it will be.

4. Make sure it applies to everyone — Your policy should apply to everyone on board, regardless of whether they're a deckhand or a skipper.

5. Make it thorough and easy to understand — Your policy should clearly outline the consequences of both taking drugs or alcohol at sea and coming to work impaired by drugs or alcohol. It should also be written in simple language, so it's easy for everyone to understand.

6. Let everyone know about it — There's no point having a policy if no one knows about it. Whether you're introducing a new policy or you've made changes to your existing one, your crew needs to know. This is another good reason to get your crew involved in creating and/or refining your policy. Ideally the policy will also form part of your crews' employment agreements.

7. Support your policy with ways to get help — Making resources available and giving your crew permission to ask for help increases the likelihood of your policy being followed. It also shows that you care for your crews' safety and wellbeing. Consider ordering booklets with

  • information on methamphetamine, cannabis and alcohol
  • as well as providing information on how to get help or treatment for to anyone who needs support.

8. Regularly review and evaluate it — Are your crew members following your policy? Are there any weaknesses or areas for improvement? It's worth regularly working with your crew to review and assess your policy, especially if it's ever breached.


What about drug testing?

If drug testing is part of your vessel's policy, bear in mind the need to consider the rights of your crew. In particular, you need to think through:

  1. how samples will be collected,
  2. how the data will be analysed,
  3. how you handle and respond to the test results.

You should also make sure your testing is in line with:

  1. the right to privacy under the Privacy Act 1993,
  2. rights under the Human Rights Act 1993 and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

See more:

It may also be worth discussing your drug testing approach with a lawyer.

Another thing to be aware of is the use of ‘detox blockers’ — herbal remedies designed to help people detox quickly so they can pass a drug test. Testing should be used in conjunction with other ways of managing drug use — and not relied upon as a fail–proof means of keeping on top of the issue.


An example of a drugs and alcohol policy

“Employees must not use, possess, sell or give out alcohol or illegal drugs while on board. An employee taking prescription medicine must provide a medical certificate from their doctor to show that the drug will not impair their work performance. Anyone violating this policy may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”

A drugs and alcohol policy helps to ensure that your vessel is a safe place to work. By making sure your policy is as effective as it could be, you'll help to protect your livelihood and the lives of everyone on board.

Review your drugs and alcohol policy now to make sure it's as effective as it could be.


Face the facts

New Zealand tops the world for cannabis use. A 2015 Global Drug Study found that in the previous 12 months, more Kiwi respondents had smoked marijuana (32.5%) than tobacco (30.1%).