HomeHealth and safetyAddressing the problem of alcohol in South Africa’s third wave

Addressing the problem of alcohol in South Africa’s third wave

AUTHOR: Rhys Evans, Managing-Director: ALCO-Safe

South Africa recently experienced its fourth alcohol ban since the Covid-19 pandemic breakout in March 2020.

The reality of catastrophic job losses in the alcohol and hospitality industries after numerous weeks of revenue loss must be balanced with rising infection and mortality numbers.

Calls to discuss the Alcohol Amendment Bill have increased with anti-alcohol lobby groups proposing new alcohol regulations to reduce alcohol consumption and relieve the burden on overstrained healthcare resources.

While the best course of action for tackling rising infections is undoubtedly a rapid roll-out of a nationwide vaccination program, this does not address the root of the crisis: South Africa’s alcohol problem.

Here, it is critical for government to consider input from all stakeholders in deciding how best to build the next generation of responsible alcohol consumers.

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What is the Liquor Amendment Bill?

First tabled in 2016, the Liquor Amendment Bill proposes certain changes, such as:

  • Increasing the legal drinking age to 21 years;
  • Introducing a 100-metre radius trade limitation near educational and religious premises;
  • Banning alcohol sales and advertising on social and small media;
  • Introducing specific liability clauses for alcohol-sellers.

Legislation alone will not solve SA’s alcohol problem

While the Bill has been debated numerous times over the past few years, most recently at the beginning of 2021, there has been no movement towards its formal introduction yet. Given the severity of South Africa’s crisis with alcohol, this type of Bill should be open to public comment, to see how interested parties can contribute to a legislative framework focused on solving the problem effectively, without banning the sale of alcohol outright in the long-term.

In the short-term, any changes to the rules and regulations regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol will need to be properly enforced, with appropriate legal or punitive repercussions for the contravention of liquor laws.

This means ensuring that businesses around us are complying with alcohol restrictions in the manner specified by law. For example, in the instance where the government has imposed periodic alcohol bans since the outbreak of Covid-19, what should individuals do when they see local restaurants and the like still selling booze?

Such businesses need to be reported to the South African Police Service (SAPS) for contravening governmental order. Furthermore, enforcement of existing laws regarding the consumption of liquor, need to be more strictly enforced.

Roadblocks testing for intoxicated drivers should be organised more frequently and prolifically, and those individuals caught exceeding blood alcohol limits need to face strict punitive measures to act as a deterrent for others.

Alcohol safety in the workplace

In the same vein, industrial sectors need to continue to enforce Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws regarding alcohol in the workplace. Given that South Africans generally spend a large portion of their waking time at work, there is an enhanced responsibility on employers (particularly in the mining, construction and manufacturing industries) to ensure that they provide alcohol-free workspaces.

This requires clear company policies detailing the organisation’s position on alcohol, with measures that allow workers to come forward and seek help for substance abuse before they’re caught for it.  Enforcing alcohol policies will need to be done in a visible manner, such as testing employees for alcohol by means of a breathalyser before entry to the workplace is permitted to avoid alcohol-related injuries in high-risk sectors.

Those workers that are found with excessive blood alcohol levels must face the appropriate disciplinary action, in order to serve as a deterrent for other employees.

The time for problem solving is now

While South Africa’s alcohol problem isn’t going to be an easy thing to solve and it’s not going to happen overnight, we must start somewhere. The Liquor Amendment Bill seems like a good starting point for government to seek public participation in taking positive steps toward a safer, healthier population that is capable of making responsible alcohol choices.

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