Texas Mutual Workers' Compensation Insurance Company - Work Safe, Texas

Employees Don’t Always
Check Substance Abuse
at the Door

It seems sub-zero temperatures aren’t the only extreme thing about Antarctica. Scientists working on the U.S. Antarctic program are taking drinking on the job to new lows.

A health and safety audit of the program found that alcohol consumption has snowballed. The result has been unpredictable behavior, fights, indecent exposure and employees arriving to work under the influence.

It’s not as if the powers that be aren’t trying to police the situation. Alcohol consumption is banned in work areas and during work hours.

Still one human resources manager interviewed for the report said about 75 percent of disciplinary actions taken by her company were related to alcohol use.

That didn’t stop one especially bold researcher from brewing his own beer in a work area.

Granted, this is an extreme case of on-the-job substance abuse. But alcohol, illegal drugs and even prescription drugs don’t discriminate by industry or geography. In fact, there’s a good chance they’ve already found their way onto your jobsite.

About 70 percent of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc. (NCADD)

So what? If an employee has a substance abuse problem, that’s their issue, right?

Not necessarily.

Employees don’t check their substance abuse issues at the door when they report to work. Even if they aren’t using on the job, a long night of partying can affect their ability to do their job safely and productively.

The fallout from substance abuse includes missed work days, lack of alertness, employee turnover and an increased risk of on-the-job accidents.

About 20 percent of workers and managers across a range of industries and company sizes report that a co-worker’s on- or off-the-job drinking jeopardized their own productivity and safety, according to the NCADD.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends a seven-step process for keeping substance abuse out of your workplace. Here is an overview of the steps. For more detail, click here.

Assess your workplace

Consider your workplace’s unique needs when creating your drug-free workplace program. Your goal in this step is to understand the nature of your workforce, the major problems and stressors affecting your employees, and the ways in which substance misuse may be causing or contributing to those problems.

Develop a policy

A written policy is the cornerstone of a drug-free workplace program. Think of your policy as a set of instructions for how you expect your employees to behave. When putting your policy in writing, consider legal requirements, such as drug-free workplace laws and regulations.

Plan, implement a program

Your substance abuse program gives employees the tools they need to comply with the policy you created in the previous step. Employee education, supervisor training, drug testing and employee assistance programs are hallmarks of drug-free workplace programs.

Evaluate the program

Continuous evaluation can help you improve your drug-free workplace program and understand how it has affected your workplace. Put an evaluation process in place before you launch your program. Make sure you establish measurable goals, and then monitor your progress toward those goals.

Provide support

Substance abuse isn’t the only issue that affects employees on the job. Relationship problems, financial difficulties and stress carry over into the work day. Many employers offer support through an employee assistance program (EAP). An EAP provides education, individual assessments, organizational assessments, management consultation, referrals to treatment and short-term counseling.

Additional resources

Trucker in Fatal Oklahoma Crash Had History of Synthetic Drug Use

In 2014, a Texas truck driver crashed into a bus and killed four members of a women’s college softball team.

The investigation turned up evidence of synthetic marijuana in his cab.

Synthetic drugs are plant-based drugs, such as marijuana or cocaine, that are mixed with an over-the-counter substance. The result is a new, often more powerful, drug that can have unpredictable effects on human behavior.

Synthetic drugs can also escape detection in traditional drug tests.

A White House Office of National Drug Control Policy pilot study found that 39 percent of people in the Washington, D.C. parole and probation system tested positive for synthetic marijuana even though they passed a traditional drug screen.

The message is that if you conduct pre-hire, random, post-accident and/or pre-hire drug tests, ask your vendor whether they cover synthetic drugs.

Before you launch a drug-testing policy, consult an attorney to make sure you comply with all applicable laws.

Drug abuse costs employers $81B a year, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence