Substance Abuse in the Workplace

Drug and alcohol addiction are progressive diseases that rob people of their lives and good judgement. A new study shows that they are also abused frequently in the workplace.

Most alcohol and drug abusers are employed and many of them bring their substance abuse problems into the workplace.  According to OSHA (the U.S. Occupational & Safety Health Administration), between 10 and 20 percent of American workers who die while at work test positive for alcohol or drugs.  Occupations that have the highest risk of injury, including construction, manufacturing and wholesale, also have the highest rates of on-the-job substance abuse.

People with substance abuse problems cause a variety of problems in the workplace.  They are more likely to be late and absent from work and tend to change jobs more frequently.  They are less productive.  They are also more likely to be involved in workplace accidents and file workers’ compensation claims.  Workers with substance abuse problems also may be involved with workplace theft.

On-the-job substance abuse impairs a worker’s alertness, concentration and reflexes.  Substance abuse that occurs in a worker’s off-hours can also impact the workplace in the form of illness from hangovers and withdrawal.  A worker who has a drug abuse problem may be preoccupied with obtain drugs or may be involved with selling drugs to co-workers.  Workers who have a friend or family member with a substance abuse problem may also cause problems in the workplace due to emotional stress.

Substance abuse is an avoidable workplace hazard that can be combated with workplace programs.  These programs can improve employee safety and increase productivity.   Substance abuse programs are especially important within industries that require a high level of safety.
OSHA recommends that workplace anti-substance abuse programs include these elements:

•     A written policy that prohibits substance abuse in the workplace and explains the consequences for violation.  The policy should be shared with all employees and applied in a consistent manner.

•    Supervisor training and employee education about the dangers and problems caused by workplace substance abuse.  Supervisors should learn how to detect the signs of substance abuse but should not be expected to diagnose problems or act as counselors.

•    A drug testing program that is reasonable and respects employee privacy.  Businesses should consult legal counsel before implementing a drug testing program in order to follow local, State and Federal laws.

•    An employee assistance program (EAP) that provides access to treatment and after-care support.  An EAP program should be confidential and should cover substance abuse problems that occur both within and outside the workplace.  Employees and family members should be referred to either short-term counseling or longer forms of rehabilitation treatment if required.

Small business are particularly hard-hit by employee substance abuse.  A small business can be devastated by a workplace accident caused by substance abuse.  Because it is more difficult for small businesses to establish anti-drug programs, many people with substance abuse problems seek employment with small businesses.  The Department of Labor and OSHA offer support for small businesses that want to maintain a workplace that is safe and free from the hazards of substance abuse.

Workplace substance abuse is everyone’s problem.  According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 75% of illegal drug users are employed full or part-time.  Most alcohol and prescription drug abusers are also full or part-time employees.  When workers who are substance abusers cause accidents, they often harm or injury other people.