09 November 2011


'Drink or drunk: Why do staff at licensed premises continue to serve patrons to intoxication despite current laws and interventions?', a new 46 page study [PDF] for the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund (NDLERF) by Costello, Robertson & Ashe comments that -
It is well documented that alcohol intoxication is a major contributing factor in incidents of aggression and violence. When factors such as health, policing costs and lost productivity are considered, it is estimated that alcohol costs the Australian economy around $15.3b per annum (Collins & Lapsley 2008).

Licensed premises are locations that are at especially high risk for alcohol intoxication and problem behaviours, as well as associated health and personal injury risks (Quigley & Leonard 2006). Over the past 20 years, Australia has made significant moves to address issues of alcohol-related harm and violence through server regulations such as the Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) training, through state and territory liquor control, liquor licensing and security legislation and through localised liquor management plans and accords.

In 2007, the Injury Control Council of Western Australia (ICCWA) conducted research into community violence among young people. The project findings indicated that perpetrators of violence regarded the practice of serving patrons to intoxication at licensed premises a major factor contributing to violence (ICCWA 2007). In 2009, ICCWA (with funding from the National Drug Law Enforcement Research Foundation) examined why staff at licensed premises continue to serve patrons to intoxication despite current laws and interventions. The Drink or Drunk project specifically aimed to gain an understanding of what motivates staff at licensed premises to continue to serve patrons to intoxication and what deters them from providing intoxicated patrons with further service.

A review of the available literature relating to service of alcohol to intoxicated patrons was carried out. In summary, much of the literature identifies a number of factors that are significant incentives for staff to continue service to intoxicated patrons. One of the most significant factors is the server’s perception of
confrontation with the patron (Reiling & Nusbaumer 2006; Turrisi, Nicholson & Jaccard 1999). Other factors such as a loss of gratuity for the server and reduced profits for the venue have also been reported to play a role in influencing serving practices (Lang et al. 1998; McKnight & Streff 1993; Reiling & Nusbaumer 2006).

In respect to civil liability, Reiling and Nusbaumer (2006) found that the risks associated with fine enforcement have little impact on compliance with serving laws if servers encountered intoxicated patrons frequently. Server interventions have emerged over the past 20 years to reduce alcohol-associated harms and injuries.
Research shows that the success of responsible alcohol service is highest when promoted in conjunction with a range of other interventions including support from management for refusing service to intoxicated patrons and support from enforcement agencies (Stockwell 2001). Management support of servers was one of the main factors measured among participants in the Drink or Drunk project. An audit of RSA training in each state and territory was also conducted as part of the project. A more detailed review of the literature is contained elsewhere in the report.

The project originally undertook to collect data from participants in focus groups in two metropolitan areas and one regional area of Western Australia. Initial participant numbers using the original methodology were however, very low. Few people, especially in the regional area were willing to participate in a focus group for privacy reasons. It was therefore necessary to revisit project strategies for recruiting participants and collecting data.

After gaining approval from the NDLERF board, the scope of the project was increased to statewide. Data collection methods were changed to one-on-one interviews and anonymous (mainly online) surveys. Advertising methods were also increased to capture discreet server groups such as students. The anonymous survey method greatly limited the scope for responses to be clarified or explored further; however, the need to make surveys anonymous was highlighted as a means of increasing participant numbers for the project. Over 400 surveys were collected from people who were currently working, or had worked in the past, as a server in a licensed premise. One-quarter of the collected surveys contained viable data which was analysed to informdiscussion about potential interventions to address the issue of serving intoxicated patrons. Data collected from regional areas of Western Australia and data from metropolitan areas were analysed separately. Data were collected for five key questions, however, it is believed that there are other factors that are also important to consider when drawing conclusions.

Overall, findings are reflective of previous studies; in particular, those related to server behaviour being influenced by perceived hassle or confrontation with patrons and the influence of management regarding decisions about whether to refuse service (McKnight 1991; McKnight & Streff 1993). The average participant/respondent in the study was a metropolitan-based 23 year old female who had worked in a metropolitan pub for almost two years and had undertaken RSA training.

Inability to recognise intoxication in patrons, premise management and lack of industry knowledge and experience were reported as barriers to serving alcohol responsibly. The most significant influencing factor in relation to serving patrons to intoxication or serving those who were already intoxicated was the servers’
reliance on their own judgement and values. By contrast with this, however, the perceptions of participants of their peers’ reasons for continuing service to intoxicated patrons were mainly based on a perception of patron backlash and confrontation if service was refused. It was also strongly believed that peers probably could not adequately identify intoxication and drunkenness and therefore continued to serve.

On review of the first collation of data, several points become apparent — the survey questions could have been more targeted and specific; there should have been more closed-ended questions, giving participants a number of choices and then asking them why they selected that choice. The authors acknowledge that the survey size is small and therefore difficult to draw significant conclusions from; however, the study has provided some good pilot data, raised some interesting questions and beckons further study.

The survey sample demographics show a relatively high number of young female participants by comparison with males. This is also reflective of other studies but could still influence the research findings.

Strategies and recommendations to address barriers to serving alcohol responsibly have been identified and include:
• review of the elements of RSA training — specifically around identifying intoxication/drunkenness,
acceptability of intoxication and how to effectively manage intoxicated patrons;
• tailored in-house training for individual venues such as Safer Bars (Graham et al. 2004) which incorporate harm reduction, violence prevention plans and address commonly held views of acceptability of drunkenness and intoxication; and
• progressive planning to recognise and accredit licensed premises that promote and practise alcohol-related harm reduction strategies.