Workplace substance abuse is a pervasive problem. While you may believe this is not an issue at your workplace, the statistics say otherwise. Driven by increases in opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana, drug use by the American workforce remains at its highest rate in more than a decade, according to a new analysis released last May by Quest Diagnostics.
Moreover, according to a survey from treatment website Detox, seven in 10 Americans have used drugs while at work, including opiates, amphetamines and cocaine.
To help you address substance abuse in your workplace, we have provided a variety of tips, suggestions and resources. However, the first step is to make sure your workplace is ready for your drug-free policy and program by informing, educating, training, and motivating stakeholders.
Preparation extends beyond simply informing employees about a drug-free workplace policy or program. The employer, human resources staff, supervisors, and employees all have a role. Successful preparation includes:
- Ensuring that everyone in the workplace understands that a drug-free workplace is more likely to be a safe, healthy, and productive workplace
- Informing everyone in the workplace about the specifics of the policy and about available strategies and programs that support a drug-free workplace, health, and wellness
- Motivating your employees to support the policy and the available strategies and programs that support a drug-free workplace, health, and wellness
- Creating a shared sense of responsibility for the success of a drug-free workplace policy and the strategies and programs that support a drug-free workplace, health, and wellness
- Developing a process to continually review and update the drug-free workplace policy and the strategies and programs that support a drug-free workplace, health, and wellness
The Employer’s Role
The employer is key to the success of a drug-free workplace policy, as well as the strategies and programs that support that policy. An effective policy is buoyed by a positive workplace culture, which is sustained by employers espousing the policy.
Workplace leaders must show support and set the right tone for your drug-free workplace efforts. Employees need to understand the rationale for the policy and program in ways that are practical, personally meaningful, and relevant to their job responsibilities. When an employer takes this approach, employees are more likely to want to participate.
Human Resources’ Role
Human resources staff have a responsibility to protect the safety of employees. They are also responsible for communicating the policy and program in the right ways at the right times.
Consider taking the following steps:
- Review the workplace's policy, program, and rules with new hires and existing employees. As new hires begin work, make the review part of their orientation package and include it on the company intranet or internal website.
- Discuss how employees and their families can get help—for example, through an employee assistance program (EAP), a health and wellness program, employer-sponsored health care coverage, or other channels.
- Discuss how employee performance issues are evaluated with respect to the program.
- Discuss how management referrals and self-referrals for assistance are handled.
- Provide details about the circumstances, procedures, and other elements of drug testing (if testing is included in the policy).
- Explain all of the employee protections that are included in the policy, including how violation information will be communicated internally and externally.
- Provide information about substance misuse, the symptoms of drug misuse and abuse, and their effects on performance. You might also include information related to the use of medications and the employee's responsibility to be fit for duty.
- Discuss prevention resources such as health and wellness programs, helplines, and other community resources. Explain how to seek assistance. Share resources available to the employee's family.
IMPLEMENTING EMPLOYEE EDUCATION
Substance misuse education and prevention must be ongoing processes. In many cases, alcohol and other drug problems adversely affect employers, employees, and their families, even when the problems never come to the attention of employers.
Many employees do not seek help for their alcohol, prescription drug, or other drug problems because they are concerned that these problems may be negatively viewed. Employees might be more willing to seek the help they need when alcohol, prescription drugs, or other substances are linked to health and wellness promotion efforts.
When designing prevention education efforts for employees, human resources staff should consider addressing the concerns of employees who are:
- Interested in a range of health promotion and wellness issues—such as stress management, pain management, weight management, nutrition, or exercise—as well as disease prevention
- Concerned family members who want to learn to effectively communicate with other family members about substance misuse, addiction, life skills, and decision-making
- Concerned about their own or their peers' substance misuse
- Interested in being part of community-based prevention efforts and activities
- Interested in confidential, individual education on substance misuse or addiction and related issues
The Role of Supervisors
Supervisors have numerous responsibilities that are critical to the success of a drug-free workplace policy and program. They are often the first or among the first to notice and to be informed of a possible problem, and they must be fair and consistent in enacting the policy.
MAINTAIN A SAFE, HEALTHY, AND PRODUCTIVE ENVIRONMENT FOR ALL
Supervisors are responsible for evaluating and discussing performance with employees, treating all employees fairly, and acting in a manner that does not judge, humiliate, or attempt to diagnose employees.
UNDERSTAND THE DRUG-FREE POLICY AND PROGRAM
To implement the drug-free policy fairly and firmly, supervisors must be thoroughly knowledgeable about both the policy and the program.
GIVE POSITIVE FEEDBACK
Most supervisors have the ability to set the day-to-day tone for the workplace. Highlighting positive behaviors that are healthy, safe, and productive—rather than managing through harsh criticism and intimidation—is a better motivator in making positive changes. Constructive, informal feedback helps to clarify expectations, correct misperceptions, and communicate standards. It also increases employee commitment.
TALK ABOUT THE WAYS YOUR ORGANIZATION SUPPORTS THE POLICY
Supervisors can promote a drug-free workplace by (1) sharing the supports offered by the employer and the community; and (2) encouraging employees to self-refer for treatment. Informal supports within the community can be useful for employees who might not be ready to acknowledge that they need professional help but are beginning to think that they may have a problem.
Internal and external support systems through the employer can provide additional resources. Internal supports include human resources departments, unions, security, management, in-house employee assistance programs (EAPs), and internal health and wellness programs. External supports include relationships with outside providers, such as an external EAP vendor, health promotion and wellness providers, substance misuse interventionists and treatment providers, and health care professionals.
KEEP THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION OPEN
An accessible supervisor is critical to creating a safe, healthy, and drug-free workplace. Effective supervisors seek feedback by encouraging their work teams to express ideas and opinions. However, supervisors are not expected to provide substance use counseling, and they should not try to diagnose alcohol or other drug problems. If a supervisor suspects a problem, particularly if associated with poor job performance or conduct, the supervisor should refer the employee to the appropriate resources for professional evaluation and assistance.
ADVOCATE FOR EMPLOYEES
Supervisors can encourage employees to deal with work-related problems that may or may not be connected with alcohol or other drug use. Being an advocate for employees also means supporting prevention, including brief screenings, early intervention, and treatment and recovery.
Viewing an employee as a person who is struggling with a chronic, treatable, medical illness is another way to support recovery. If an employee has been given a chance to improve job performance but has not changed behavior, the supervisor might need to take a more direct approach as it applies to the drug-free workplace policy. The emphasis should never be on judging the employee, but on following any laws related to illicit drugs, prescription drug abuse, and improving the employee's job performance.
Creating a drug-free workplace that is safe, healthy, and productive is everybody’s job.
UNDERSTAND HOW THE LAW AFFECTS YOU
Some industries are required by law to have a drug-free workplace policy. Know which laws apply to your workplace. For instance, the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 (41 USC 81) requires that all organizations receiving grants from any federal agency agree to maintain a drug-free workplace.
UNDERSTAND THE POLICY IN YOUR WORKPLACE
Know what is required of you, and know what the consequences are for not complying. This will help protect everyone involved from complications attributable to misunderstandings. Some questions that your policy should answer include:
- Who does it cover?
- What substances are barred?
- Is drug testing included in the policy and program?
- What substances are subject to testing?
- What kind of assistance does my employer offer?
- What are the penalties for violating the policy?
UNDERSTAND AND SUPPORT THE PROGRAM
Know the rationale for the policy and program. You should know why the policy and program are important to your organization—regardless of whether they are required by law—and the impact of alcohol and drug problems in the workplace.
Know the available resources for getting help. Be informed about your employee assistance program (EAP) or health and wellness program, if you have them; the benefits offered by your health insurance plan; and local resources that might be available. These can be resources for you, a coworker, or a family member.
Participate fully in any training that your employer makes available. No matter how much you think you already know, and no matter how much you have read, you can probably learn more by participating in training or education activities that your employer offers.
Looking for other ways to improve the safety of your workplace? Arbill can provide the equipment and training you need while also offering safety and environmental site audits that provide a comprehensive review of your policies and procedures. Schedule a free consultation with an Arbill safety expert today and take the first step to ensuring your employees go home safely after every shift.
Have a Safe Day!