Special Topics in Safety Management

7 Early Warning Signs of Substance Abuse on the Job

Do your supervisors understand the early warning signs of a substance abuse problem? They should. If they don’t, it’s time for a training session.

Surveys show substance abuse remains one of the most serious issues facing U.S. businesses, with more than 6 million active alcoholics employed and a price tag of $276 billion a year. More than 70 percent of all current illicit drug users aged 18 and older are employed.

With such a dangerous and widespread problem, it’s important to recognize substance abuse on the job before it leads to an accident.

Warning Signs

Here are some early warning signs that can alert your supervisors to the possibility of substance abuse on the job:

1.    An otherwise inexplicable fall-off of work efficiency in terms of volume, accuracy, or promptness is often an early warning sign of substance abuse problems.

2.    So is frequent tardiness—often explained with increasingly elaborate, but hard to check, excuses.

3.    Excessive use of sick days is also a common warning sign of substance abuse. These absences often occur on a Friday or a Monday.

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4.   Some employees with drug or alcohol problems may come to you and ask to use vacation time—right away.

5.   Another indication that you might be dealing with an employee substance abuse problem is an increased involvement in accidents and near misses and/or an increase in the employee’s error rate.

6.   Yet another hint of the problem may be heavy use of breath sweeteners. Alcoholics, particularly those who drink during the working day, are heavy users of various sorts of breath mints to kill the smell of alcohol.

7.   Other early warning signs of substance abuse problems may involve physical and mental characteristics or changes, such as mood swings, decline in grooming, staggering, dozing off on the job, etc.

Supervisors should be aware that one or two of these signs alone does not necessarily indicate an alcohol or drug problem, but a combination of several signs indicates it is time to speak with the employee about the possibility of a substance abuse problem.

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Ready-Made Checklists

BLR’s Safety Audit Checklists provides safety and health checklists on more than 50 essential workplace topics, to help you manage risks, prevent accidents, and protect employees. (Incidentally, one of the checklists is on recognizing and preventing alcohol abuse in the workplace.)

Each Safety Audit Checklists section contains:

  • A review of applicable OSHA standards
  • Safety management tips
  • Training requirements
  • At least one comprehensive safety checklist

Many sections also contain a compliance checklist, which highlights key provisions of OSHA standard. All checklists can be copied and circulated to supervisors and posted for employees.

All told, this best-selling program provides you with more than 300 separate safety checklists keyed to three main criteria:

  • OSHA compliance checklists, built right from the government standards in such key areas as HazCom, lockout/tagout, electrical safety, and many more.
  • “Plaintiff attorney” checklists, built around those non-OSHA issues that often attract lawsuits.
  • Safety management checklists that monitor the administrative procedures you need to have for topics such as OSHA 300 Log maintenance, training program scheduling and recording, and OSHA-required employee notifications. 

Make as many copies as you need for all your supervisors and managers, and distribute. What’s more, the entire program is updated annually. And the cost averages only about $1 per checklist.

If this method of ensuring a safer, more OSHA-compliant workplace interests you, we’ll be happy to make Safety Audit Checklists available for a no-cost, no-obligation, 30-day evaluation in your office. Just let us know, and we’ll be pleased to arrange it.


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