New drink-driving laws – what employers need to know

With new laws coming into place on 1 December, HRM talks to a workplace lawyer about what employers should do to reduce the legal risk of drunken employees taking to the wheel.

New drink-driving laws – what employers need to know
The first of December will see new legislation that will significantly lower the breath and blood alcohol limits for drivers in New Zealand, reducing the legal limit from 400 to 250 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath.
These changes are set to become even more significant for employers once the new Health and Safety at Work Act comes into place – which is due to happen in early 2015. Once the Act is in place, employers’ responsibilities to manage the risks of alcohol consumption at work or work events will likely increase further.
“Employers need to ensure that they are being responsible for knowing and reducing their organisation’s health and safety risks,” said Katherine Percy, CEO at Workbase. “Employers need to ensure that their workers’ safety is not compromised.”
Percy added that driving is a clear risk, and employers have a responsibility to ensure that employees do not pose a threat to the health and safety of themselves or others.
“Because drinks differ so much – and so do individuals – it’s often hard for people to tell when they’ve had too much to drink,” Percy said. “Employers are responsible for ensuring that their employees are in a safe environment, so should arrange for taxis or other safe ways of getting home.”
She also warned employers not to fall into a sense of security if they already have a drink driving policy in place.
“Many firms already have policies about drinking and driving – they may need to review them and make sure that the policies refer to the correct limit,” she said.
Percy had the following tips for employers to reduce risks associated with the new legislation:
  • Review policies to make sure that any stated alcohol limits are in keeping with the new law’s requirements
  • Understand the business’s health and safety obligations in relation to alcohol and put steps in place to close any gaps
  • Make employees aware of the new law.  Educate them about safe drinking, including that blood alcohol levels continue to rise for up to two hours after drinking stops.
  • Advise workers about the dangers of using the number of drinks consumed as a drink-driving limit guideline. There are many variables, including alcohol strengths differing widely between types of beverages.  Furthermore, pour sizes can differ, which makes it difficult to accurately judge alcohol consumption.
  • Educate employees that each person’s individual factors such as body weight, health conditions or medications significantly affect their body’s alcohol absorption rates
  • Put host responsibility practices in place, including processes for identifying people who are drinking too much and stopping further alcohol from becoming available to them
  • Always provide substantial food when alcohol is served, to slow down alcohol absorption and consumption. Provide a choice of interesting, adult-appropriate non-alcoholic options (think beyond fizzy drinks and orange juice!).
  • Encourage people to plan ahead and organise a ride home if they are likely to be drinking.  Alternatively, provide taxi chits or other transport options.
Percy added that some organisations provide breath-testing at functions, but this is not necessarily an effective practice as  it can also serve to provide a ‘goal’ for people to drink up to as well as being an alert not to drive.

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