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Substance Abuse and the Workplace
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DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE - AN IMPORTANT WORKPLACE ISSUE!


Drug and alcohol abuse is by no means a new problem.

At various times throughout history there have been movements to address substance abuse and its effects. These range from the early temperance movements, prohibition in the United States, the banning of absinthe, the various campaigns against drug producers and traffickers, and the increasingly vigorous measures currently being taken against drinking and driving.

Over recent years, one important development, actively supported by BAAP, has been the growing realization in many countries that drug and alcohol abuse is an important workplace issue.

The issue of drug and alcohol abuse at the workplace has traditionally been met by a dismissive attitude and the reflex of trying to sweep the problem under the carpet, based more on moral precepts than a concern for the health issues involved. Yet, drug and alcohol abuse is not a problem which can be isolated from the workplace. Quite the contrary. It is now coming to be much more widely, although not by any means universally understood that substance abuse is harmful to both enterprises and workers, and is therefore prejudicial to national and international competitiveness.

Drug and alcohol abuse - An important factor in accidents, absenteeism and illness

Drug and alcohol abuse not only affects work performance in general, but also results in higher rates of absenteeism, accidents, illness and mortality, with all their related costs. It is therefore an important health and safety issue in its own right. Over recent years, studies have shown that:
***absenteeism is two to three times higher for drug and alcohol users than for other employees;

***employees with chemical dependence problems may claim three times as many sickness benefits and file five times as many workers' compensation claims;

***in many workplaces, 20 to 25 per cent of accidents at work involve intoxicated people injuring themselves and innocent victims;

***on-the-job supplies of drugs and alcohol account for 15 to 30 per cent of all accidents at work.

Drug and alcohol abuse - Even fairly low levels of consumption are detrimental to performance, quality and safety-

As greater knowledge has been acquired over recent years, through the increased volume of research carried out on the subject, it has become increasingly evident that workplace problems associated with substance abuse are not confined to alcoholics and drug addicts.

This is particularly true in the case of alcohol. While, at the individual level, alcoholics and other heavy drinkers are the most likely to cause accidents, their numbers in the workplace are relatively small. In comparison, the relative risk of an individual moderate or occasional drinker causing a problem associated with the consumption of alcohol is much lower. However, in collective terms, simply because their numbers are much higher, moderate and occasional drinkers account for the largest proportion of alcohol-related problems in the workplace.

Further investigations have also confirmed that a relatively high level of performance impairment can occur after the consumption of even fairly low quantities of alcohol.

According to a study carried out in 1990, when airline pilots had to perform routine tasks in a simulator under three alcohol test conditions, it was found that: before the ingestion of any alcohol, 10 per cent of them could not perform all the operations correctly;

***after reaching a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10/100ml, 89 per cent could not perform all the operations correctly; and

***fourteen hours later, after all the alcohol had left their systems, 68 per cent could not perform all the operations correctly. (Modell and Mountz, "The problem of alcohol use by pilots", in New England Journal of Medicine, 1990)

These findings support the establishment of broad-based prevention and problem management programmes, rather than concentrating principally on the identification and rehabilitation of heavy drinkers and alcoholics. Similar research is being conducted for drug users and may well show the same results.

Most problem drinkers and drug users work

Another very important reason why the issue of drug and alcohol abuse cannot be isolated from the workplace is that so many problem drinkers and drug-takers work. The workforce is typically a reflection of the community in which the workers live. Inasmuch as alcohol and drug abuse are present in the community, it is highly likely that the workforce has a similar level of abuse. The workplace is therefore a very significant channel for preventive and remedial action, with the potential to reach an extremely high proportion of workers with alcohol problems and drug users, as well as the members of their families. The workplace can therefore be a vital component of community programs to change attitudes towards the consumption of alcohol and drugs.

Some sectors and categories of workers are more affected than others

Research work has also helped to identify, not just the sectors in which the workforce is at particular risk of drug and alcohol abuse, but also the reasons why such problems are likely to occur in particular industries and occupations.

The sectors which have been identified as being at special risk include the food and catering industry, transportation, the maritime sector, construction, assembly line workers, military personnel and recreation and entertainment services.

In very general terms, lower status workers, young persons and males would appear to be particularly prone to alcohol and drug abuse. However, the problem is not confined to lower level workers. High consumption rates have also been noted among company directors, lawyers and even doctors and police officers.

Several characteristics of work are coming to be more clearly recognized as being related to the increased use of alcohol and drugs. These include job stress, occupational and co-worker norms, the availability of drugs and alcohol at the workplace and long periods spent outside the family environment. In contrast, it is also becoming steadily clearer that the level of awareness at the workplace, along with the development of an attitude of prevention and greater responsibility among the workforce, can be a very important factor in reducing the use of drugs and alcohol by individuals both at work and in the community.

***Drug and alcohol abuse is a problem that employers, workers and their partners just cannot afford to ignore.

***Drug and alcohol abuse is prevalent almost everywhere, sparing very few countries and workplaces. It is a major contributory factor in accidents, absenteeism, health problems, theft, lower productivity and job loss. For workers, substance abuse can result in deteriorating health, injury, disciplinary action, family problems, job loss, and therefore poverty and social deprivation.

For employers, substance abuse leads to safety problems affecting the enterprise, the workforce and the public at large, and it gives rise to increased costs, lower productivity and loss of competitive edge.

In today's globalized economy with its emphasis on rapid reaction, innovation and the capacity to constantly renew skills, it is easy to see that ignoring workplace substance abuse problems, and absorbing their costs, is not a viable option

Safe Haven Counseling Center will be most happy to work with any employer interested in establishing an on-site Employee Assistance Program which can be the Employer contact department for employees. EAPs are designed to be pro-active by teaching employees about Alcohol and other Substance Abuse and by providing Counseling Services which keep confidentiality and which are corrective in nature and practice rather than being a punishing arm of the Company. Contact us at 240 – 1777 if you would like a consultation on this issue.

Copyright 2004, Botswana Alcohol Aids Project - Jim MacDonald Webmaster. Contact Jim at djm@paonline.com