Learn steps to help address addiction in the workplace
September 2, 2021
Millions of people struggle with addiction every day. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics show overdose deaths hit an all-time high of more than 93,000 in 2020—an increase of nearly 30% from 2019, according to www.ehstoday.com.
With some workers having easy access to opioids, drug overdose deaths while at work reportedly are increasing, and the transportation/warehousing, construction and health care/social service industries rank in the top three for the highest number of overdose deaths.
Safety professionals can help prevent overdoses and detect addiction in the workplace; however, they need to work with human resources, legal and others to ensure interventions and policies are lawful, in compliance and are fair and enforceable.
Following are strategies that can help employees who struggle with addiction.
Implement a substance use policy. It’s difficult to take any action without a policy in place that employees are aware of and agree to. Clearly state expectations, any routine drug screening protocols and potential consequences for violating the policy.
Specify what constitutes “reasonable suspicion.” Be clear regarding the objectively observable physical signs to look for, such as odor of alcohol or marijuana, changes in speech (which can be slurred from alcohol use or overly talkative from opioids) or being excessively drowsy or agitated. It might be safe to enforce a policy that states if this behavior is reported, it must be observed by two members of management.
Educate leadership and staff regarding the disease of addiction. Counteract the stigma of a substance use disorder as a moral failing by encouraging staff to be supportive instead of judgmental. Offer trainings that clarify addiction as a disease and that it should be viewed and treated like one. Employees will be more likely to look out for one another and will feel less shame for their own addiction and seek the help they need.
Offer a second chance. Substance use can create a dilemma for workers. They know they may get fired if they get caught, but they may also be physically dependent on a substance. If they stop, they may go through withdrawals and miss work, which also may get them fired. Create a policy that gives workers a second chance. Let employees know if they come forward or volunteer to get treatment for their substance use disorder, you will hold their position and help them find a treatment program.