The unknown foe …
Alcohol abuse can impact many facets of a job – most notably health and safety, but also productivity and the company’s reputation, too. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only awareness-altering issue that employers have to deal with
Many industries face the challenge of alcohol abuse among employees while they are on the clock. Organisations are, fortunately, becoming more aware of this and are implementing policies, procedures and testing for the presence of alcohol before an employee enters the workplace.
There is, however, another aspect to substance abuse that is making an impact on industry, which many companies are overlooking – the use of drugs.
“Drug abuse in South Africa, as in many countries all over the world, has been an issue for years,” explains Rhys Evans, Director of Alco-Safe – a specialist in workplace substance-abuse management. “However, the number of different types of drugs available has grown dramatically, at a variety of price points. Cheap recreational drugs are now easier to come by than ever before.”
He adds that drugs have, essentially, become more affordable than alcohol, giving rise to increasing levels of abuse and addiction. “For employers and businesses, this can have serious negative consequences, as drug abuse does not only affect home lives, but work performance as well, not to mention the negative impact on health and safety.”
Evans highlights that drugs are often used as a coping mechanism for those who are stressed, unhappy, or not dealing with the pressure of their everyday lives. “In addition, in industries such as farming and construction, drug usage can result from boredom and workers being away from their families for extended periods of time.”
He continues: “Whatever the reason, the availability and low price of recreational drugs presents a challenge for many organisations. As people become increasingly addicted to a substance, they often spend a large portion of their income on it, and cannot support themselves or their families.
“They also often stop eating and do not sleep, so they lose weight and their health and concentration levels decline. Their work performance usually suffers, absenteeism increases and, ultimately, they are unable to perform their jobs effectively.”
The numbers really are startling, as Richard Malkin, MD of Workforce Healthcare, explains: “South Africa has built itself the dubious reputation of having one of the highest rates of substance abuse in the world, with 15 percent of the population, or one in ten people, being diagnosed with a drug problem. In fact, the abuse of hard drugs, alcohol and prescription drugs is estimated to cost the country in excess of R20 billion each year.”
Workforce Healthcare – a Workforce Holdings Limited company – specialises in health and wellness, with expertise in management and coordination of healthcare professionals and the development of customised, turnkey employee wellness solutions.
Substance abuse is also having an upward impact on crime statistics. “The South African Police Service estimates that substance abuse is a factor in 60 percent of crimes nationally, with this figure climbing as high as 80 percent in the Western Cape,” Malkin points out.
Evans adds: “Education is a large component of dealing with drug abuse. Many users are unaware of the implications and effects of drugs, as well as how to go about getting help once they realise they have a problem.”
This is where an integrated Substance Abuse and Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can play a meaningful role in helping workers avoid, prevent or deal with substance abuse, before it is too late.
Malkin continues: “While the goings-on in an employee’s personal life certainly doesn’t fall within the responsibilities of an employer, companies can support their personnel by providing the tools they need to manage their stress, address substance abuse problems, and offer them support on their road to recovery. Employers who offer these interventions will benefit by experiencing reduced absenteeism, increased productivity and a safer workplace.”
For example, the EAP offered by Workforce Healthcare aims to assist employees battling with substance addictions by guiding them towards a healthier, drug-free lifestyle.
This is done first through education. Workers are taught about the many negative impacts of substance abuse – and that substances being abused are not only illegal drugs, but include legally available “fixes”, such as alcohol and prescription medication.
“Programmes like this are successful because they ‘catch’ people who have fallen victim to substance abuse. They also raise awareness in the workplace, and provide access to treatment for those who may not have known where to turn for the help they need,” says Malkin.
“Giving employees access to a trained, compassionate professional, without their friends and family being informed, may well give them the impetus they need to take control of their lives.”
Evans adds: “Ensuring a drug-free workplace helps organisations to improve safety, decrease risk, comply with health and safety regulations, improve productivity and employee performance. It also helps to curb a growing problem in South Africa.
“However, organisations also need to implement drug policies and testing procedures to monitor employees for drug usage. This requires the use of the latest equipment to ensure fast, accurate and minimally invasive testing.”
With regard to testing equipment, a number of different solutions are available. Evans explains that urine testing is a cost-effective option that comes in a number of different forms, including single and multi-panel dip tests, cassette tests (where a pipette is used to drop samples for testing onto the tests) and integrated cup tests (which incorporate the test panel into the sample cup).
“Urine testing has special requirements, however, such as the need for private bathrooms and for testers to be the same gender as those being tested. In environments where this is not possible, saliva drug testing may be preferable.”
Evans points out that saliva testing uses a swab to produce results in a matter of minutes, and can be used to screen for a panel of five common illegal substances including heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines.
He adds: “In addition to urine and saliva testing, test kits are also available that enable the testing of solid substances for the presence of drugs. Using one of these testing options can benefit organisations by assisting them to enforce drug-free workplaces.”
He concludes: “Drug abuse is a growing problem in South Africa. It affects both work and home life for those caught in its vicious cycle. Employers should implement educational practices as well as testing policies and procedures to help curb drug abuse in the workplace.”
Not only is this a health and safety requirement, it can also benefit employers by improving productivity and employee health.