People fail to understand that “workplace safety” is a fairly broad term. Apart from warning signage, fire safety training, and mandatory protective gear, workers need to be shielded from themselves, to put it in those words.
Substance abuse is not a negligible issue, as many workers have a tendency to arrive at work under the influence. From alcohol abuse, across illicit drugs, all the way to the misuse of prescription drugs, employees need to understand the full consequence of workplace substance abuse through education.
What constitutes substance abuse?
For some, even coffee is considered a drug. However, an employee who drinks three cups of coffee during their shift is not a substance abuser since he or she is using coffee for what it is meant: keeping them awake.
Substance abuse, by definition, is the use of a substance for something that it was not intended. Whether the motives behind substance abuse are medical, psychological, sociological, the person becomes impaired physically and mentally.
In most cases, prolonged abuse of a given substance can result in an addiction; by the point of which it might be too late for someone to willingly quit. The person in question starts losing grip of his or her own life and they become a liability both at home and, more importantly, at work.
As far as the drugs people take, the following 5 are most commonly used in the workplace and require special attention on part of the employer: stimulants, narcotics, depressants, hallucinogens, and anabolic steroids.
Detecting substance abuse in employees
Just because a worker is acting differently, it doesn’t mean they are engaged in substance abuse. They could simply be having a bad day or problems back home.
Substance abuse is detected by noticeable sleep and food deprivation (drowsiness, loss of appetite) and the general deterioration of a particular worker’s health condition. An employee who is abusing alcohol and/or drugs is likely to underperform at work, arrive late or fail to shop up altogether, and they are likely to ask for sick leaves more often.
If you knew them as a highly-motivated individual but now they have become lazy and tardy, then that’s the final indicator that it’s substance abuse in question. Of course, you can always use drug test kits to know for sure that you are dealing with an employee who is addicted to an illegal drug.
Once these problems escalate, the worker in question might arrive to work under the influence. You will easily notice this if they are working slower, their morale levels drop noticeably, they start making more and more errors, and they get involved in a workplace accident that might result in an injury.
In the final stages of substance abuse and drug addiction, that you will hopefully be able to prevent, employees will become violent, getting into an altercation with others. They will not think twice before throwing a punch at their fellow worker or a manager. Even worse, they are likely to commit acts of perjury, theft, and forgery; directly hurting the company they work for.
What is it that you can do?
Although substance abuse is a pretty serious matter, you are not entirely powerless. Education at all levels, from the factory worker to the CEO will help them understand the consequences and perils of substance abuse.
One way to educate the staff is through counselling. Reach out to a licensed counsellor and ask them to hold half a dozen sessions with various groups of employees. The next step in education is training. Training sessions should be held annually, mainly in the form of workshops.
The main goal of training is to prevent problems before they occur and to handle early-stage substance abuse before things get serious. For individuals who are still finding it difficult to manage their addiction after group counselling and training sessions, you can try an individual approach.
Workers can be assigned with assistants who will monitor their progress and report to the HR department. Finally, there is emergency prevention that functions like a suicide prevention hotline; operating 24/7. With a bit of luck, you will never have to resort to this final measure.
Keeping a file on each employee
Whether you decide to leave the above-mentioned measures to the psychologists employed in your HR department or outsource this service, each employee will need to have a separate file. These files would work like the files you keep on their first-aid and fire safety training history.
An employee’s file would keep track of a person’s mental and physical changes over the years. This way, you could track their behaviour and performance in an objective manner that wouldn’t be based on hearsay and colleagues’ testimonies.
Needless to say, these records would be confidential, as their existence is purely for internal purposes. In fact, employees don’t even have to know of their existence. Don’t feel bad for tracking your employees’ mental health because, in some countries, you are actually obliged by law to do so.
The best tool employers have at their disposal to handle substance abuse at the workplace is education. Once workers become fully aware of all the consequences of substance abuse, they will think twice before getting drunk or accepting a joint. The final measure at your disposal is to lay off the troublesome worker who refused to change his/her way after several warnings.