Substance abuse is becoming more and more of a headache in the workplace and can have dire consequences on safety, morale and productivity – no matter what size the business. SHEQ MANAGEMENT takes a look at the dangers of, and possible solutions to, this demon
When it comes to substance abuse in the workplace, it’s of the utmost importance for companies to invest in reliable detection solutions. This, in conjunction with a sound health and safety policy, can go a long way towards avoiding unhealthy tensions or even life-threatening incidents within organisations.
“The range of substances being abused by employees stretches from alcohol to illegal drugs and even prescription medication,” says Michael Crossland of Precision Safety Appliances (PSA). “Undetected intoxication achieved through any of these products has a major negative impact on the business and in a worst-case scenario can lead to fatal industrial accidents.”
Detecting substance abuse, however, can be fraught with problems – not least because of the risk of infringing on employees’ rights to privacy. For this reason, even a business with a small staff complement must have a health and safety policy that incorporates a clearly defined substance abuse policy in place.
“By setting the parameters for testing and the disciplinary action to be taken if the employee tests positive, this type of policy will ensure that the employer stays on the right side of the law,”
With a draft policy in place, the next step is deciding on the testing method. Testing must be conducted fairly, ensuring no person or group is unfairly targeted. The equipment used must be of a professional standard, and calibrated and administered by competent people.
Investing in high quality detection equipment can save time and money in terms of re-testing – not to mention the lives that could be at risk if abuse is masked and an intoxicated employee returns to their work station.
“This is particularly important when it comes to those in ‘safety sensitive’ occupations such as truck drivers, forklift and crane operators, and those who work at great heights,” says Crossland.
In selecting testing equipment, employers need to consider the track record of the supplier, the range of substances that each instrument can detect and the training offered by the supplier. The frequency of recalibration, which will ensure ongoing testing accuracy, must also be considered.
According to Crossland, there are many breath alcohol testing products on the market, with entry level instruments being non-alcohol specific. These systems can fail to pick up alcohol or even give false positives. Instruments such as these aren’t intended for industrial use and are not recommended as reliable indicators in any
Professional grade instruments are alcohol specific and highly advanced to ensure that the correct results are obtained. They should, however, be calibrated every six to 12 months – to ensure their accuracy.
The most common form of drug screening in the workplace is urine testing. This is the most accurate way of screening employees for the presence of a large variety of both legal and illegal drugs. Any positive result should be sent to a pathology laboratory for confirmation to further ensure the accuracy of the testing procedure.
“We supply the world-renowned Lifeloc portable breath alcohol testers as well as the Split-Specimen Cup system for drug testing,” says Crossland. He adds that both systems are reliable and easy to use, and are provided with training. The results of both these testing systems are recognised as valid in cases taken to the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
The third step in the chain is deciding when and who to test for substance abuse. Some companies, particularly those in dangerous industrial environments, have a blanket policy of testing for alcohol as people arrive for work and refusing to allow intoxicated staff on site. Many test for drugs as a matter of course before confirming a new appointment to the staff complement, sometimes performing random testing throughout the year. Still others insist on testing all employees at annual medical check-ups.
There are, however, signs to watch for that would
warrant testing under the terms of the company’s health and safety regulations.
Some points of concern to look out for are:
* Unruly, aggressive or despondent behaviour;
* Marked increase in absenteeism and deterioration in health;
* A definite decrease in productivity for no apparent reason; and
* An unusually dishevelled appearance.
A cluster of these warning signs would warrant testing for substance abuse in
terms of the health and
safety policy, since employers are expected to ensure a
safe working environment for all employees.
The abuse of drugs and alcohol by employees affects the user and everybody they come into contact with – from colleagues who have to fill the production gap left by the incapacitated to managers who must deal with the fall-out, and health and safety officers who have to shoulder the responsibility should there be an industrial accident.
A comprehensive substance abuse strategy within the company’s health and safety policy – one that includes trusted testing methods and an employee assistance programme to help the abuser and relevant staff chart a way forward – is an invaluable tool that will minimise the negative effects this destructive demon can have in the workplace.