Safety Alert - Drugs in the Workplace

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Illicit drugs, prescription, and over-the-counter medication can affect an employee’s ability to make decisions, exercise sound judgment, and operate equipment safely. Approximately 2% of work related deaths can be attributed to illicit drug use.  The types of drugs that contributed to these deaths include amphetamines, cannabis, barbiturates and narcotics (Safe Work Australia).  In 1998, The National Occupational Health and Safety Commission found that stimulants were found to have contributed to 14 workplace deaths involving motor vehicle accidents over a 4 year period.  There are controls to aide in discouraging illicit drug use or misuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications including a written company policy and an effective drug testing program including post-accident testing.  There may be some limitations with regards to prescription medication, but it’s important to ensure that employees know to follow the dosing instructions and that certain side effects may require employees to keep from completing normal job duties while taking these medications (i.e. do not operate heavy machinery).

Do you have similar safety risks in your workplace?

  • Has there ever been a time when you suspected that an employee has been under the influence of illicit drugs or medications before or during work?
  • Do employees have to successfully pass a drug test to begin employment with your organization?
  • Are employees drug or alcohol tested following a workplace accident?

What action can you take to prepare for drug use in the workplace.

  • Establish a company policy which clearly explains that working under the influence of illicit drugs or prescription medications that impact work performance is not permissible.  Ensure that employees know that consumption or misuse of such items may result in disciplinary action.
  • Train supervisors to ensure a full understanding of the company policy, how to recognize and address performance issues that may be related to misuse.
  • Educate employees regarding the health hazards of illicit drug and prescription medication misuse and how working under the influence can create a hazardous work environment.
  • Develop an employee assistance program designed to help employees who are experiencing problems with drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Consider conducting drug testing and decide on the frequency and times when testing will be expected.
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