How alcohol consumption impacts health, safety and hydration
Alcohol consumed at levels commonly found among blue collar workers will lead to increased dehydration along with a range of physical and mental health and safety issues.
The “six before 6pm and nine before 9pm” approach to after-shift alcohol consumption – a common reference to the amount of drinks workers consume – is enough to cause both short and long term damage to the human.
Long term, alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer proportionally to how much is drunk. An estimated 3200 cases of cancer were attributable to alcohol consumption in 2010. Liver disease, heart disease, stroke and mental health issues are other risks.
Short term issues include increasing the time taken for the body to recover from exercise, exacerbating soft tissue injury and slowing injury healing processes, reducing body temperature regulation, disturbing sleep length and quality, impairing decision making and increasing the likelihood of a poor diet, according to a 2014 review Alcohol: impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes.
Alcohol in high doses impairs glucose output which is critical to endurance performance and fuelling protein synthesis during muscle recovery, according to the review, and the productivity of a worker who has consumed more than a few drinks after a day on the tools will likely be significantly reduced.
While that might not motivate most workers, those who are training in the gym are also likely to see significantly reduced results from that training, something they will care about.
Alcohol will probably also make you fat. Drinking will increase the likelihood of a poor diet while the average beer has around 130-150 calories. What’s more, drinking even two beers is enough to slow fat metabolism by 73%.
Furthermore, alcohol consumption was found in the review to decrease work tolerance in both high and low ambient temperatures, potentially contributing to heat stress which is already a serious issue on industrial sites.
Functionally, alcohol has been repeatedly found to impair reaction times, visual search, recognition, memory and accuracy of fine motor skills, all vital for the worker dealing with potentially deadly machinery or equipment.
Sleep length and quality is also compromised, with a loss in sleep depth, a shorter time of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and an increase in sleep at stage 1.
It doesn’t stop there. Alcohol is a depressant and heavy use directly affects brain function and alters brain chemicals, neurotransmitters and hormonal systems known to be involved in the development of many mental health disorders.
In fact the risk of having a mental illness is around four times higher for people who drink alcohol heavily than for people who don’t.
Furthermore legal, financial and interpersonal problems that alcohol may cause can also contribute to depression and anxiety.
Given that mental illness is already the leading cause of sickness, absence and long term work incapacity and estimated to cost the Australian workplace $12 billion each year, educating workers as to the potentially damaging effects of alcohol should be part of every OHS program.
Addressing excessive alcohol consumption will also likely provide strong returns. It is linked with absenteeism, presenteeism, interpersonal problems, job turnover, injuries, disciplinary problems, poor job performance and reduced productivity.