Summer 2000 Volume 9
A majority of workers today have covered for a coworker who was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs while on the job. A vast majority of drug abusers have jobs in which they cook our food, build our houses, and perform a myriad of jobs that make up the modern workforce.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, workplace substance abuse costs $60 billion to $100 billion annually in lost productivity.
The problem is clear, the solution is not as easy!
For employers, substance abuse presents a minefield of bad employee relations, possible litigation and the nagging feeling that maybe it's best not to know. It is a crowded minefield, however, with virtually every employer in America dealing with the problem.
With record low unemployment, employers are often forced to consider applicants they would normally turn away to fill open jobs. Industries like construction and food service, which have a high number of entry-level positions, are particularly vulnerable to workplace substance abuse.
After years of battling the problem, many American businesses have concluded that employee drug testing is the best answer. Still, not every employer tests its employees. A recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed that 48.5 percent of workers said their employer had some type of drug testing program. Over 70 percent reported that their employer had a written policy concerning drug use, however.
Ultimately, it is up to the employers whether or not they institute drug tests. Apart from heavily regulated industries, like transportation companies, most employers are left on their own to come up with a substance abuse program.
Even OSHA has not issued guidelines to battle workplace substance abuse. The federal agency provides information and helps employers, but it has no formal guidelines.
While there are few legal hurdles for an employer to have all new hires take a drug test, when it comes to random testing for existing hires, things can become sticky. The laws vary from state to state on this issue, so be sure to check with your state and your legal counsel before you start any testing.
Substance abuse does not always involve illegal drugs. In fact, most substance abuse issues stem from alcohol rather than controlled substances.
While we may not know of any coworkers who work while they are high on drugs, how many of us have worked with someone who is working with a bad hangover? Fifty-nine percent of American workers said in a recent survey that alcohol abuse is a major problem.
Up to 40 percent of industrial fatalities and 47 percent of industrial accidents can be linked to alcohol abuse, according to an article in Occupational Medicine.
Some companies combat this problem by testing an employee if there is a detectable presence of alcohol on the person. After being tested, if the employee has over a predetermined blood alcohol content level, the employee is dismissed or recommended for treatment.
If you suspect an employee has a problem with substance abuse, there is an easier approach than making them take a drug test. The safest thing for an employer to do is simply deal with the performance problem. It is well within the employer's right to deal with the performance issue, never bringing up the possibility of substance abuse.
The good news is that workplace substance abuse is declining. It will continue to decline as long as employers continue to demonstrate that working drunk or high is simply not going to be tolerated. By demanding drug-free workplaces, it virtually guarantees we will receive them.
- Write a substance abuse policy
- Train supervisors
- Educate employees
- Provide employee assistance
- Drug and alcohol testing
Individual state laws may have an impact on your policy. Check with the appropriate state agency to see what you can and cannot do with regard to controlling drug abuse in your workplace.
According to a recent study conducted by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, the highest rates of current and past year drug abuse are reported by workers in the following occupations:
- Food preparation
- Food servers
Every business understands the positive impact ergonomics can have in reducing workplace injuries. For the past several decades, loss control professionals have worked with numerous types and sizes of businesses to integrate ergonomic strategies into their overall loss control programs. As a company, EMC and its agents support the cost-effective use of ergonomics in the workplace. However, there are some concerns about OSHA's ergonomics proposal which was first introduced in November, 1999.
Consider the fact that in the absence of a comprehensive ergonomics regulation, severe job-related injuries, including musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), continued to decline in 1998, matching a six-year low of 1.7 million. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released a report showing that the American workplace is becoming safer. In the study, MSDs are shown to be on the decline. For example, the study shows that reported carpal tunnel syndrome cases have declined from 41,000 in 1993 to 26,300 in 1998, a drop of nearly 36 percent. Lost workdays have also declined since 1992, from 2.3 million in 1992 to 1.7 million in 1998. Despite this evidence, OSHA continues to seek an ergonomics regulation which could be costly for many American businesses.
After complaints from the business community and the U.S. Congress, OSHA provided additional opportunities for the public to voice their reactions to the ergonomics proposal. OSHA has already heard from more than 7,000 stakeholders during the 100-day pre-hearing comment period and recently completed nine weeks of public hearings on the proposal. During these hearings, OSHA heard from more than a thousand witnesses, including representatives of large and small business, small business owners, employee representatives and individual workers, as well as physicians, ergonomists, occupational health nurses and others.
What will the outcome be? You can find up-to-date information about the hearings, which ended May 21, and the OSHA proposal itself at http://www.osha-slc.gov/SLTC/ergonomics/index.html.
During unusually hot weather conditions, the number of heat illnesses usually increases. Therefore, it is advisable to make a special effort to implement a heat stress training program to help workers reduce the risk of heat stroke, heat exhaustion and other heat-related health problems.
According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the key to preventing heat stress and other problems is educating employers and workers on the hazards of working in heat and the benefits of implementing proper controls and work practices.
NIOSH recommends employers develop a heat stress training program which includes at least the following components:
- Knowledge of the hazards of heat-related disorders.
- Recognition of predisposing factors, danger signs and symptoms.
- Awareness of first-aid procedures for, and the potential effects of heat-related disorders.
- Employee responsibilities in avoiding heat-related disorders.
- Dangers of using drugs, including therapeutic ones, and alcohol in hot working environments.
- Use of protective clothing and equipment.
Contact your EMC agent for more information about developing a heat stress training program to help your employees get safely through the summer months.
Scheduling a roof inspection in the spring or early summer not only helps extend the service life of your roof, but reduces leaks, wind damage and other roofing problems. One thing you’ll want to take a close look at is the flashing.
Flashing provides a waterproof cover at crucial sections of the roof where the actual roofing material terminates. A variety of problems may occur at these spots if the flashing has been damaged during the winter. By checking the flashing and other key elements of the roof, you’ll minimize severe leaks and wind damage down the road.
You may want to start by inspecting the interior of your building for signs of water and staining. If there are such signs, chances are the root of it has to do with the condition of your roof.
Whether you do it yourself or hire a roofing professional, taking a good look at your roof’s condition is one more way you can protect your building and its contents from damage.
Although you should promote a safe workplace 12 months a year, we encourage you to make a special effort to recognize it during June.
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