Special Topics in Safety Management

Workplace Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Steps to Stop It

Workplace drug and alcohol abuse costs businesses a hundred billion dollars a year, and that’s before the enormous human costs. But a solid antiabuse program can help curb it at your organization. Here are key steps in setting one up.

One hundred billion dollars a year.

That’s what the U.S. government estimates is the annual cost to business of drug and alcohol abuse. And if you think your organization is immune from this plague, chances are that you’re probably wrong.

Despite the stereotype of addicts as unemployed losers on street corners, nearly 75 percent of adult abusers are employed, perhaps by you.


The heart of an antiabuse program is the policy you write. But you don’t need to write it. It’s already there to modify or use as-is, with all the other safety policies you’re likely to need, in BLR’s new and already best-selling Essential Safety Policies program. Try it, on us. Click for info.

You might know them by their absentee records. They’re likely to be gone at 2.5 times the rate of the average employee. Or perhaps by their workers’ comp claims, which run 3 to 5 times those of nonabusers. In fact, say government statistics, between 30 percent and 50 percent of all workers’ comp claims are generated by abusers.

If nothing else, you’ll know them by the expenses they generate against your health plan … 300 percent higher than nonabusers. Then add to this the far greater human costs to co-workers, families, and abusers themselves.

Minimizing this threat to your organization was the subject of a recent article in our sister print publication, OSHA Compliance Advisor (OCA), as well as other sources.  Here’s a digest of what they had to say:

What the Law Says … and Doesn’t Say

Despite its highly publicized war on drugs, the federal government has kept to its own knitting in enforcing a drug-free workplace. Uncle Sam demands stringent antidrug measures in federal agencies, for many contractors and all grantees, and in certain safety-sensitive businesses such as transportation. There is, however, no overall federal drug-free workplace law for the private sector.

Likewise, although a few states mandate drug-free workplaces, others take the voluntary approach. Some 13 states, for example, reduce workers’ comp premiums if a drug-free workplace program is undertaken. And both levels of government offer advice in setting up such a program.

If you do choose to create such a program, observe these guidelines:

–Create a policy. We’ll detail this more thoroughly tomorrow, but briefly, your policy needs to expressly ban illegal drugs and abuse of alcohol; to specifically state which drugs and related acts are banned; to explain the steps you will take to back these edicts; and to detail the consequences for their violation.

–Develop a testing program. Decisions need to be made on whom to test, when to test (e.g. preemployment, random, regular, reasonable suspicion, incident-related), who will do the test (a certified independent lab is preferred, with at least two tests showing positive), and what will happen on a positive finding.

–Decide what should be done. While some organizations simply discipline or terminate, others see abusers as valued employees with a problem, who are well worth saving. For this reason, many set up Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to deal with drug and alcohol issues off site. “Establishing an EAP shows respect for your employees and offers an alternative to dismissal,” say OCA editors.

Examine Essential Safety Policies at no cost and no risk (not even return shipping). Click for details.

–Consider the role of your supervisors. As the management level closest to employees, supervisors will likely be the first to notice the signs of abuse. They need to be tutored on what to look for, and how to document and deal with it. Most important is what supervisors should NOT do—attempt to diagnose what are essentially medical issues, or to counsel abusers. Their role is to report behavior and support what abuse experts decide are appropriate responses to individual situations.

–Communicate to employees the details of your program, the effects of abuse, and the importance of understanding the problem and reacting in a supportive way.

The cornerstone in all of this is, of course, the policy you set, which controls all the rest. We’ll give you suggestions on what that should contain in tomorrow’s Advisor.