Substance abuse in the workplace; The way forward

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Substance and alcohol abuse cuts across all categories of people. It occurs within all ethnic groups, professions, trades, age groups, educational backgrounds, and salary ranges within the globe.

Substance abuse, also known as drug abuse, is a patterned use of a drug in which the user consumes the substance in amounts or with methods which are harmful to themselves or others, and is a form of substance-related disorder. Drugs most often associated with this term include: alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cannabis, cocaine, methaqualone, opioids and substituted amphetamines.

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The chart below highlights the different level of harm caused by different drugs abused.

Substance abuse

“Scoring drugs”, The Economist, data from “Drug harms in the UK: a multi-criteria decision analysis”, by David Nutt,

 

Substance abuse in the Construction Industry

The substance abuse problem for the construction industry is magnified due to the nature of construction work. The construction industry involves more potential hazards for its workers than any other occupation. Due to the wide range of activities performed on a construction site by employees from a variety of firms, there is significant exposure to harm from the actions of others as well as from the worker’s own unsafe behavior.

Substance abuse according to a 1988 National Institute (NIDA) survey, 28.1 percent of construction workers admitted to using illegal drugs. This figure is probably low since, even in a confidential survey, some people would be reluctant to admit to the use of illegal drugs. This was the highest percentage of drug use found in any industry surveyed–a dubious achievement.

The average construction worker must place great faith in the level of skill, competence, and fitness for duty of those working on the site. Workers rely on each other to do their jobs in a safe manner and to protect both themselves and their fellow workers. Not only does substance abuse cause accidents, it certainly reduces the effectiveness of the individual worker. Thus, the use of illegal substances or the abuse of prescribed medications, which might impair the ability of a worker to perform normally, poses a significant risk for the site management and workers.

This widespread usage of illegal substances is very likely a contributing factor to the construction industry’s unacceptably high injury rate.

 

Statistics of substance use:

Substance abuse
 

 

Some causes of substance abuse:

  • Unstable home environment, often due to drug abuse or mental illness of the parent
  • A poor relationship with parents
  • Use of drugs by friends / peers
  • Permissive attitude towards their own drug use and the drug use of the adolescent
  • Behavioral problems combined with poor parenting
  • Poor achievement
  • Apparent ambivalence or approval of drug use in the workplace
  • Availability of drugs in the vicinity
  • Frustration

 

Problems Caused in the substance abuse in the Workplace

  • Deaths and accidents
  • Absenteeism
  • Loss of production
  • Tardiness/sleeping on the job
  • Hangover or withdrawal affecting job performance
  • Poor decision making
  • Loss of efficiency
  • Theft
  • Lower morale of co-workers
  • Increased likelihood of having trouble with co-workers/supervisors or tasks
  • Preoccupation with obtaining and using substances while at work, interfering with attention and concentration
  • Illegal activities at work including selling illicit drugs to other employees
  • Higher turnover
  • Training of new employees
  • Disciplinary procedures

 

Some facts about alcohol in the workplace:

  • Workers with alcohol problems were 2.7 times more likely than workers without drinking problems to have injury-related absences.
  • A hospital emergency department study showed that 35 percent of patients with an occupational injury were at-risk drinkers.
  • Breathalyzer tests detected alcohol in 16% of emergency room patients injured at work.
  • Analyses of workplace fatalities showed that at least 11% of the victims had been drinking.
  • Large federal surveys show that 24% of workers report drinking during the workday at least once in the past year.
  • One-fifth of workers and managers across a wide range of industries and company sizes report that a coworker’s on- or off-the-job drinking jeopardized their own productivity and safety.

 

How to control workplace substance abuse

Every workplace should develop a good and comprehensive substance abuse policy in the workplace. This policy should include, but not limited to:

  • Every newly employed staff must be given orientation on the company stance on substance abuse.
  • Substance abuse detection strategy. Detection is a crucial element in any solving the problem of drug abuse in our workplace. This requires additional vigilance on the part of site supervision, since drug testing only indicates past usage and does not actually measure impairment.
  • Drug testing should be implemented in our workplace.
  • Establishment of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP): This program will help in offering assistance to workers already involved in drug abuse. It will guide them on how to work their way out of drug abuse by  addressing the cause. This program will be managed by a professional counselor.
  • The policy should stipulate the punitive measure to workers that do not adhere to the substance abuse policy of the company.

 

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