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[2012; R-2013 | Keywords: Human Resources, Substance Abuse

Drugs and alcohol do not belong in the workplace. The numbers are staggering – drug abuse is estimated to cost U.S. employers nearly $276 billion a year. From lost productivity and injuries, to increased health insurance and workers compensation claims, employee alcohol and drug abuse is an expensive problem for businesses.

Where do substance abusers work?

Three-fourths, or 76 percent of people with a drug or alcohol problem are employed. However, you won’t find them working at businesses with effective drug- and alcohol-free workplace programs.

Ninety percent of large businesses have drug free workplace programs in place today, while only 5 to 10 percent of small and medium sized businesses have implemented similar programs.     As a result, they tend to be the “employer-of-choice” for illicit drug users. Individuals who can’t adhere to a drug-free workplace policy tend to seek employment at businesses that don’t have one, and the cost of just one accident caused by an impaired employee can devastate a small business.

Employees who abuse drugs and alcohol can create significant safety and health hazards. Negative consequences include decreased productivity, poor employee morale, and increased costs associated with property damage, workers compensation, and health care.

According to the American Council for Drug Education, abusers are:

  • 10 times more likely to miss work
  • 6 times more likely to be involved in on-the-job accidents
  • 5 times more likely to injure themselves or another in the process
  • 5 times more likely to file work-comp claims
  • 33 percent less productive

In addition, a study by the National Clearinghouse for Drug and Alcohol Information showed that 9 percent of heavy drinkers and 10 percent of drug users had missed work because of a hangover, 6 percent had gone to work high or drunk in the past year, and 11 percent of heavy drinkers and 18 percent of drug users had skipped work in the past month.

Implementing a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Program

Small businesses can improve the safety and health of their workplaces and employees by implementing a drug- and alcohol-free workplace program that educates employees about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and encourages individuals with related problems to seek help. Such programs help reduce occupational injuries and illnesses and send a clear signal that employers care about the safety and health of their employees.

A drug- and alcohol-free workplace program not only helps businesses avoid problems, it provides value as well:

  • Demonstrates to employees that their well-being is important
  • Attracts employees who are drug- and alcohol-free
  • Encourages a clear-thinking, professional workforce
  • Helps prevent bad publicity being associated with your business
  • Fewer injuries can lead to improved workers compensation modifiers and lower insurance premiums

Implementing a drug- and alcohol-free program requires careful planning and consideration. Federated Insurance Company has developed a drug- and alcohol-free checklist that can be used to help businesses develop and implement a program that meets the specific business needs of your company.

  1. Written Policy – include the purpose of the drug- and alcohol-free workplace program (laws, regulations, organization goals); expectations for compliance (who, what, when, where); options offered for assistance (employee assistance programs, community resources); and consequences for violating the policy (discipline, referral for assistance, termination).
  2. Educate Employees – Provide employees with training that surrounds the policies and procedures being implemented.
  3. Train Supervisors – Provide training to supervisors designed to take into account the particular characteristics of your workplace in an effort to maximize the effectiveness of the drug- and alcohol-free workplace program.
  4. Document Completed Training – Document and record employee training for at least five years.
  5. Administer Drug Tests – A drug testing program can help screen out job candidates with drug and alcohol problems. It can also identify employees who are drug users and allow you to provide help and remove drugs and alcohol from your workplace.
  6. Consider an Employee Assistance Program – An EAP can enhance the work climate of an organization and promote the health and well-being of everyone involved.

Note: Some aspects of your drug- and alcohol-free workplace program may be subject to restrictions and regulations under state law. Consult legal counsel when implementing and enforcing your program in compliance with your state laws.

When a Worker is Affected or Impaired by Alcohol or Drugs

How should you approach someone affected by drugs or alcohol in the workplace? First, it is important to keep in mind that impairment can be caused by a range of factors, including alcohol and other drug use. The focus at the workplace should be on occupational safety and health management rather than more general concerns about personal health. When the ability to work safely is impaired, the employer and workers should respond in a humane manner based on the information available.

  • Be brief, firm and calm.
  • Use the affected person’s name; repeat your message (“I am instructing you to stop work for the day. Arrangements will be made for you to go home.”)
  • Do not argue or debate; simply repeat your message.
  • Avoid using terms such as, “You’re drunk.”

If a person appears affected or impaired by alcohol or drugs, the employer has an obligation to make sure the person or anyone else at the workplace is not put at risk. If a policy exists for this situation, it should be followed. In the absence of a policy, the employer should determine the most appropriate course of action, which may include making arrangements for the person to get home safely. It should not be assumed that any observed impairment is caused by alcohol and/or other drug use. Other impairment factors may include fatigue, medical conditions, chemicals, heat, noise and symptoms of work-related stress.

Businesses who have a drug- and alcohol- free workplace program will find that an investment in education, prevention, and assistance programs will pay dividends for both the employer & the employee. If your business does not currently have a program in place, it is time to get one in place.

Sources: Federated Insurance Company, OSHA, Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Labor, National Clearinghouse for Drug and Alcohol Information, American Council for Drug Education