Objective: To estimate the direct cost to industry of absenteeism attributable to drinking alcohol and smoking.
Design: Review of sick leave and superannuation data in the staff records of Telecom Australia (nearly 80,000 staff) for the financial year 1991-92 to identify illnesses related to alcohol or smoking. Costs were calculated by reference to tables of aetiological fractions, which statistically attribute a proportion of an illness to alcohol or smoking.
Main outcome measure: The cost of employee absences attributable to alcohol or smoking expressed in the value of the person's daily salary.
Results: Illness attributable to smoking or alcohol accounted for 25% of sick leave. The estimated costs were $5,500,000 for alcohol and $16,500,000 for smoking. The total cost of $22,000,000 averages $275 per employee per year. If this cost is extrapolated to the rest of the Australian workforce, the total would exceed $2,000,000,000 a year.
Conclusion: Limitations in the data mean that our results are likely to be underestimates. The direct costs to industry of ill health caused by alcohol and smoking are substantial and warrant preventive and rehabilitative programs.