New research finds many rural workers are consuming alcohol at ‘risky levels’ 20 Jul 2012

Released to coincide with Farm Safety Week, a study of rural workers has found that nearly half of those surveyed were substantially increasing the risks to their health through excessive alcohol consumption.

The research, coordinated by the Rural Industries R&D Corporation, studied participants who worked in the grain, cotton, mixed farming, sugar and fishing industries. Interviews were conducted with more than 150 casual, seasonal and mobile workers along with family members and employers.

The study’s lead researcher, Dr Julaine Allan from Charles Sturt University’s Centre for Inland Health said 43 per cent of those taking part in the study were identified as risky drinkers who consumed large amounts of alcohol frequently.

“Risky drinkers are those who consume more than the two standard drinks a day with two alcohol free days per week, recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council. Around half of those in the study drinking at risky levels had five or six drinks every day, putting them at risk of long term harm,” Dr Allan said.

The study found that the use of illicit drugs was at much lower levels amongst rural workers when compared to excessive alcohol consumption. Of those studied, 13.7 per cent reported using cannabis and 9 per cent admitted to using amphetamines.

Younger participants reported binge drinking (10 or more drinks once or twice a week) at social gatherings whereas older participants reported drinking between five and eight drinks regularly, often daily, at home.

The study found that some employers ignored drug and alcohol use by employees because of labour shortages, particularly during harvest season. The research also found very limited use of health care among those surveyed and no knowledge of drug and alcohol services.

“People don’t want to talk about their alcohol consumption to health care providers or their mates and they don’t want to stop the social events and community get togethers that revolve around alcohol,” Dr Allan said.

The research was funded by the Collaborative Partnership for Farming and Fishing Health and Safety: the Grains RDC, Cotton RDC, Sugar RDC, Fisheries RDC, RIRDC and Department of Health and Ageing. The report can be downloaded for free from the RIRDC website:

Media contacts: Damon Whittock, ph. 02 6271 4175; Dr Allan (via CSU Media), ph. 02 6933 2207.