Substance Misuse


Alcohol related harm is a growing concern both regionally and nationally. Evidence would suggest alcohol related harm costs the Northern Ireland economy £900 million annually, with £77.5million lost to presenteeisim at work and £33.1million lost to absenteeism from work.

In Northern Ireland alcohol is the most commonly abused substance, and the majority of people with a drinking problem are in the workplace, but the prospect of tackling when and how much employees drink can be daunting. However acting to prevent problems before they occur can save time in the end and is often more effective than dealing with a problem that becomes too serious to ignore.


  • Alcohol causes an estimated 3-5% of absences from work, equating to an estimated cost to business, in Northern Ireland, of £238 million;
  • Loss of productivity and poor performance;
  • Lateness and absenteeism;
  • Safety concerns;
  • Bad behaviour or poor discipline;
  • Adverse effects on company image and customer relations;
  • resentment among employees who have to ‘carry’ colleagues whose work declines because of their drinking; and
  • Drinking even small amounts of alcohol before or while carrying out work that is ‘safety critical’ will increase the risk of an accident.


Drug misuse is a serious problem for the misuser, the workplace and for co-workers. You could be breaking the law if you knowingly allow drug-related activities in your workplace and you fail to act. It is just as important to know the implications to both your employees and business of not tackling  drug misuse, particularly where safety is involved.
Successfully tackling drug misuse can benefit both your business and your employees. For example by:

  • Saving on the cost of recruiting and training new employees to replace those whose employment might be terminated because of reducing the cost of absenteeism or impaired productivity;
  • Creating a more productive environment by offering support to those employees who declare a drug-related problem, improving employee morale;
  • Reducing the risk of accidents caused by impaired judgement;
  • Enhancing the public perception of your organisation as a responsible employer;
  • Contributing to society’s efforts to combat drug misuse.


•Substance misuse refers to the misuse of alcohol, prescribed drugs, volatile substances and the use of illegal drugs.

  • The Health and Safety Executive’s Drug Misuse at Work booklet suggests that employers can benefit from the introduction of a substance misuse policy by:
  • Reducing the risk of accidents caused by impaired judgement;
  • Creating a more caring working environment by offering support to those employees who declare a drug-related problem thereby improving employee morale.
  • Saving on the costs of recruiting and training employees to replace those whose employment, because or untreated drug misuse, might be terminated;
  • Enhancing the public perception of the organisation as a responsible employer by contributing to society’s efforts to combat drug misuse.


Provide and display information on ‘low risk drinking’, drug facts and sources of support in an area that all employees have access to, possibly in the form of posters on the inside of toilet doors or on a notice board in the bathroom.

Develop and implement a policy which views substance misuse as a health problem rather than an immediate cause for disciplinary action or dismissal.

An essential element of dealing with substance misuse in the workplace is not only to encourage safe working practices but also to support those employees with alcohol/drug dependence to seek help. A key factor in a good substance misuse policy is the mechanism to allow employees to be referred to specialist agencies for counselling with the aim of reintegrating them back into the workplace.

The Health and Safety Executive’s Drug Misuse at Work booklet suggests that employers can benefit from the introduction of a substance misuse policy by:

  • Reducing the risk of accidents caused by impaired judgement;
  • Creating a more caring working environment by offering support to those employees who declare a drug-related problem thereby improving employee morale.
  • Saving on the costs of recruiting and training employees to replace those whose employment, because or untreated drug misuse, might be terminated;
  • Enhancing the public perception of the organisation as a responsible employer by contributing to society’s efforts to combat drug misuse.



smoker-1457305-639x497SMOKING FACTS

Smoking is the single greatest preventable cause of death in the world today. There are more than one billion smokers worldwide – that’s one quarter of all adults – and it’s killing up to half the people who smoke.
In Northern Ireland, around 340,000 people aged 16 and over smoke.

Smoking contributes to not only many cancers, heart disease, bronchitis and asthma, but other illnesses, including stroke, which causes around 2,400 deaths per year here, all of them avoidable.

Cigarette smoking is also recognised as a major cause of health inequalities in lower socioeconomic groups and is estimated to account for around 50% of the health inequalities gap. One million working days are lost each year in Northern Ireland due to smoking. However, the good news is the risk of serious disease starts dropping as soon as you stop smoking. Breathing becomes easier and improves as lung function increases, and within one year of quitting, a person’s risk of a heart attack is halved.
The cost to the smoker is clear, with a 20-a-day habit amounting to around £2,000 a year.

Smokers in Northern Ireland spend on average 15% of their income on their habit, and for smokers who are in the lower socioeconomic groups, this equates to a much higher proportion. Smoking in pregnancy is associated with a range of negative outcomes.

Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to have a miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or stillbirth, and are more likely to have a baby with low birth weight. (


  • Participate in No Smoking Day and provide employees with information about giving up.
  • Provide information about smoking cessation services that are available locally.
  • Some employers offer active support to employees who are trying to quit, for example: by having a smoking cessation support available during working hours. Indeed an employee can be trained as a Smoking Cessation Advisor. Contact the Smoking Cessation Co-ordinator listed below for further information. Arrange a smoking cessation support group at lunch time.

The workplace smoking cessation service has been set up to provide a free service for employers across Northern Ireland

Northern Area

Gillian McAtackney
028 2587 2866

  • Antrim
  • Ballymena
  • Ballymoney
  • Carrickfergus
  • Coleraine
  • Cookstown
  • Larne
  • Magherafelt
  • Moyle
  • Newtownabbey

Eastern Area

Bernie Neeson
028 9066 3281

  • Ards
  • Ballynahinch
  • Bangor
  • Castlereagh
  • Downpatrick
  • Dundonald
  • Lisburn
  • Newcastle
  • North Down

Western Area

Mary Campbell

  • Derry/Londonderry
  • Limavady
  • Strabane

Kathleen Mc Manus

  • Fermanagh
  • Omagh

Southern Area

Siobhan O’Brien
02837 414557

  • All areas

Ciara Burke
028 8772 0366

  • Armagh
  • Dungannon

Frances Haughey

  • Banbridge
  • Craigavon

Belfast Area

Denise Stevenson 07824875458 or 02890 320202 Ext. 3768

  • Belfast South

Policy Development Implementation

policy developmentA healthy policy sets out what your business, in partnerships with its employees, will do to promote health.


Workplace health promotion policies should be clearly written so that there is no misunderstanding regarding their content. Try to keep it simple.
No two business are the same, it is impossible to have standard policies for health issues like mental health, healthy eating,substance misuse etc. Your policies should be developed to suit the particular structure, organisation and ethos of your business.
Workplace health promotion policies should be integral to the overall health and safety policy of your business. They should be linked to other elements of health promotion in the workplace. Policies should be applicable to all personnel, regardless of age, sex, ethnic origin or grade. Each policy should include a clear statement on the roles and responsibilities of each group of employees and management within the organisation.

Developing a workplace health promotion policy is based upon the following key steps:
Step One – Set up a working party

This group needs representation from all levels within the organisation, with people from:

  • Senior management
  • Trade union
  • Health and safety
  • Personnel
  • Occupational health
  • Staff representatives
Step Two – Inform the workforce

Inform employees about the process that is occurring. It is useful at this stage to identify what is already happing in relation to health issues, e.g. your business may already have a mental health policy.

Step Three – Consult with the workforce

Employees must be consulted about their needs and have their say. This will also help address concerns and difficulties. Large businesses may wish to conduct a survey,where as small business may arrange meetings, focus groups.

Step Four – Write the policy

Devise a draft policy and circulate this to the workforce. All employees should receive a copy of the proposed policy. This gives employees the opportunity to comment and suggest changes. The policy should then be revised and employees should be given notice of changes and the date of introduction.

A policy should contain:

  • Organisations commitment to the management of health and wellbeing
  • Outline the roles and responsibilities of employees and management
  • Provide sources of support
• Outline procedures for recording and monitoring
  • Encourage motivation and commitment amongst the work (appointment of a health champion to support health promotion activities)
  • Partnership working
• Outline organisations legal obligations
Step Five – Implement the policy

Once the period of consultation has ended the final document has been written, the policy should be launched and followed up with awareness sessions regarding the content of the policy. Promote the policy throughout the workplace.

Step Six – Review the policy

Regularly monitor the policy to gauge its effectiveness. This review should lead to the policy being updated.


Benefits of Physical Activity

excercise with workmatesThe workplace is an important setting to encourage employees to increase their levels of activity to benefit their health and protect against the most common health problems. Physical activity is essential for good health and contribute to positive wellbeing.

WHO defines physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure – including activities undertaken while working, playing, carrying out household chores, travelling, and engaging in recreational pursuits.

The recommended daily guidelines for Adults aged 18–64 years are:

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. One way to do your recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity is to do 30 minutes on 5 days a week.
  • For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or equivalent.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.


  • Research shows that 8 out of 10 women and 7 out of 10 men in Northern Ireland do not engage in sufficient physical activity, many of these people are employed.
  • Inactivity is one of the main risk factors for diseases such as coronary heart disease; this may place a significant burden on the health of your employees.
  • Physical activity can play a major role in promoting the physical and mental health of employee and can also lead to increased productivity.
  • Research has shown that employees who are fit and active have lower levels of absenteeism.
  • Physical activity can be used as an effective team building tool.
There are many ways employers can promote physical activity in the workplace such as:
  • Encouraging employees to take a walk at lunchtime possibly by organising a group-walking programme or by promoting the use of stairs rather than the lift.
  • Provide information about physical activity that is taking place in the local area e.g. posters and leaflets.
  • Support and participate in events such as National Bike Week, Bike to Work Week.
    Form a company sports team e.g. soccer, gaelic football, netball, rugby, etc. Not only will this
  • encourage employees to take part in physical activity but it will also help to increase staff
  • morale and cohesion.
    Provide shower facilities or changing facilities for employees who wish to take part in physical
  • activity during the working day.
    Some larger businesses provide exercise facilities, however this can be costly, an alternative
  • would be to subsidise the cost of employees joining a gym.
    Contact local gyms to see if they could provide a discounted corporate gym membership for
  • staff.
    Set up a group which represents employees and management to discuss physical activity in
  • your workplace.
    Consult with other agencies such as the Health Promotion Department and your local Council
  • (Leisure Department).
    Ask employees about what would encourage them to become more physically active.


• Health Promotion Department (All Trusts) Physical Activity Co-Ordinator

• Local Council Sports Development Department

These websites may also be useful sources of information

Musculoskeletal Disorders

Back Pain at WorkMusculoskeletal disorders are the most common physical work- related problems in the UK and in particular back pain, neck and shoulder pain and upper/lower limb disorders.

The main causes of MSD’s in the workplace are: repetitive work, poor posture, excessive force, lifting and carrying heavy loads, strenuous pushingand pulling,and standing and sitting for long periods.

Employers have a key role in the management and treatment of MSD’s by setting up an ergonomic programme encouraging employees to report problems immediately to ensure early intervention; providing access to occupational health services, and organising appropriate adjustments and support to assist in retention and rehabilitation of employees.
Employees can help in the prevention of MSD@s by leading an active and healthy lifestyle, adopting good posture, taking breaks, using the correct lifting techniques and reporting any problems they experience.


  • 1 in 5 will not return to work after just 4 weeks of absence ( Health at Work 2011)
  • After being off work for 6 months only 1 in 5 return to work ( NICE 2009)
  • After 2yrs+ on IB a person is more likely to die or retire than to return to work again ! (NICE 2009) & (HM Government 2005b)
  • The problem of workers being on the job, but because of illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning, can cut individual productivity by one third or more.’ Paul Kemp , 2004
  • In one year it is estimated that 572’000 people suffered from MSD’s caused or made worse by work.
  • An estimated 9.3million working days are lost through work-related musculoskeletal disorders
  • On average each person suffering from a work related musculoskeletal disorder took an estimated 16.3 days of work


  • Encourage employees not to hide health conditions, have open and honest lines of communication, help them overcome their ‘ fear’ that disclosure/ asking for help in work may ultimately = job loss
  • Remember no two people with the same condition are the same ,pain levels fluctuate, as do the personality characteristics, beliefs, attitudes and values of each employee
  • Discuss simple‘ adjustments’ before situations deteriorate; e.g. ‘movement breaks’, flexible hours, adjusted duties for a short period, consider ergonomic assessment, advice, support and equipment via the Access to Work Programme.
  • Provide information to employees relating to pain management
  • Be mindful of work life balance and life stressors and support that’s available for help

Regular reviews with employee are essential, chronic pain doesn’t disappear, be aware of the issue of presenteeism ,your employee will sustain work longer and perform better with your support

Ensure good information is available on health conditions – via national self-help websites;

Condition specific websites e.g.

Condition Management Programme (CMP)

CMP is a work-focused, health rehabilitation programme which helps people better understand and manage their conditions. Delivered by health care professionals such as Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists and Mental Healt hNurses, it does not provide treatment but offers information, advice and support on an individual and/or group basis. CMP is available to DEL clients in receipt of ESA and jobseekers allowance.
For more information check out


Health at Work – An Independent Review of Sickness Absence, Black & Frost, 2011

Working for a Healthier Tomorrow – Black, 2008

NICE Guidelines 19, Managing Long Term Sickness Absence and Incapacity for Work (July 2008)

No-one written off, Reforming Welfare to reward responsibility Boorman (August 2009)

Health and Wellbeing at Work in the UK

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and


Mental Health

mental healthMental Health is the foundation for our healthandwellbeing. It gives us the ability to cope with every day pressures and manage change in our lives. The way staff are managed can impact significantly upon their mental and emotional wellbeing.

Mental ill-health or distress is a major cause of sickness absence from work, reduced productivity and staff turnover, stress is a biggest cause of a lot of mental ill-health, especially anxiety and depression. It makes good business sense to protect and promote the mental health of your employees.


Nearly 3 in every 10 employees will have a mental health problem in any one-year the great majority of which will be anxiety and depressive disorders. 91 million working days a year are lost to mental ill-health Stress and poor mental health can lead to low productivity, accidents, high staff turnover, poor working relationships, low morale and job dissatisfaction. Stress is the highest cause of absenteeism in the workplace after musculoskeletal disorders.


Employers also have legal obligations towards their staff. The main areas of legislation that relate to mental wellbeing in the workplace are:

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA)
  • Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA)
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999)
  • Equality Act 2010.

Health and safety laws ensure workers have the right to work in a safe environment where risks to health and wellbeing are considered and dealt with efficiently. It also ensures a responsibility to cooperate with legislation. If the mental health condition has a substantial, long-term adverse effect on someone’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities then they will be covered by the Equality Act.

Note that disabled people don’t have to disclose that they have an impairment.

The Equality Act aims to end the discrimination that many people face on protected characteristics including disability in employment and other areas. The Equality Act replaces the Disability Discrimination Act.

  • Devise and communicate a workplace policy on mental health to support both the employer and employee and outlining the organisations commitment to the health of its employees
  • Raise awareness of mental wellbeing and reduce the stigma associated with mental ill health
  • Make adjustments to the working environment, workload, hours, that adversely affects mental wellbeing, while the employee is at work or is returning to work after a mental illness.
  • Develop action plans to promote mental and emotional wellbeing and reduce stress.
  • Encourage early recognition of problems amongst the entire workforce
  • Provide published systems of support
  • Provide information and training e.g. train managers in Mental Health First Aid so they can recognise the signs and symptoms at an early stage.
  • Introduce policies on work life balance options such as time of in lieu, job sharing and flexi time.
  • Have an open door policy so the employee feels they will be listened to if they have a problem, creating a culture of openness.
  • Carry out a stress audit and develop an effective plan of action, there are organisations who can help with this process.


  • Reduced staff turnover and better staff retention
  • Increased productivity and performance
  • Improved working relationships
  • Increased self-worth and confidence
  • Enhanced reputation as an employer
  • Better employee engagement
  • Improved morale
  • Reduced sick absence


Lifeline: 0808 808 8000

Disability employment helpline: 0800 528 0462

Health and Safety Executive (EMAS) Employment Medical Advisory Service:

Employment Service Access to Work Scheme Health and Safety Executive – Stress Management Standards

Aware Defeat Depression

Action Mental Health

Equality commission


Healthy Eating

Healthy EatingA healthy diet is important in maintaining good health and can help to reduce the risk of some cancers, coronary heart disease and diabetes.

The economic consequences of unhealthy eating can be severe, they are reflected in costs to employees for absenteeism, reduced productivity and disability.

£16.85billion is the estimated cost of poor eating habits to employers in the each year, which includes cost of loss of productivity due to lack of concentration through skipping breakfast.

Promoting healthy eating is part of promoting health in the workplace, you can make simple changes and put measures in place to encourage healthier eating.


The cost of people being obese and overweight is estimated at up to£7.4 billion per year. Obesity can increase the risk of stroke, diabetes and coronary heart disease (CHD) Only 33% of people eat there 5 a day in NI. (HSNI 2013/2014)
In Northern Ireland there are 67% of males and 56% females overweight or obese. (HSNI2013/2014) More than one in five adults in the UK are classified as obese and this proportion is predicated to rise by
47% for men and 36% for women by 2035.


  • Have healthy affordable eating options in the canteen, vending machines or during meetings.
  • Identify healthy options on menus
  • Provide literature and posters on the benefits of healthy eating
  • Provide educational sessions or practical programme on good healthy eating
  • Devise a healthy eating policy
  • Have a clean and hygienic kitchen/canteen
  • Time available for breaks
  • Promote and participate in local healthy eating campaigns
  • Provide fresh clean drinking water
  • Start up a walking club at lunch and allow extra time for employees to participate in activities.
  • Provide a fridge, microwave/cooker and utensils to enable staff to prepare healthy fresh lunches.


Healthy Eating can;

  • Reduce the risk of becoming overweight and obese and help maintain and healthy weight
  • Promote better sleep
  • Elevate mood and self esteem
  • Improve attention span
  • Reduce the risk of developing diabetes,high blood pressure and some cancers
  • Protect against some colds and flu
  • Increase energy
  • This can lead to improved employee morale, decreased absenteeism, higher productivity and lower health care costs.



British Heart Foundation
Food Standards Agency