Productivity, safety, absenteeism and medical expense are some of the problems that require correction. Workers who experienced drugs and alcohol are 25% less productive than those who abstain. They also threaten the safety of fellow employees and the general public and can run up enormous medical and rehabilitation expenses for their employers. Drug use causes fatigue, paranoia, difficulty in concentrating, impaired judgment, slowed reaction time, poor coordination, and confusion. Alcohol abusers have high absenteeism, frequently arrive late and leave early, display verbal and physical aggression, often sleep on the job, and are a drag on productivity and quality. As a result, accidents are three to five times more likely among alcohol and drug users, and when accidents do occur, druggies and alcoholics are five times more likely to file Workers' Comp claims. Drug and alcohol abuse is the primary cause of 47% of industrial injuries and deaths. The problem is not isolated among a few bad apples. Studies have shown that 85 million Americans have experimented with illegal drugs. Seventy percent of illicit drug users are employed, as are 85% to 90% of alcohol users. In a typical work force, 80% of the employees know someone who drinks, or buys or sells drugs at work.

Why workers turn to drugs and alcohol

If you understand the reasons why workers turn to drugs and alcohol, you stand a much better chance of changing attitudes and modifying habits through health promotion programs. Essentially, people take drugs because of low job satisfaction, job insecurity, dangerous working conditions, job stress, isolation from friends and family, and to try to stay awake while performing boring and repetitious jobs. Alcoholics, on the other hand, drink because they have low job autonomy and lack control over work conditions and products, are bored, stressed out and sexually harassed, and frequently have to put up with verbal and physical aggression from fellow employees or management. Many also are in rebellion against workplace alcohol policies. Researchers have begun to look not just at the effectiveness of workplace alcohol programs in intervening in drinking problems, but also at the culture of the workplace itself as a determinant in both drinking and non-drinking behavior of employees. While alcohol testing is able to immediately measure the level of worker intoxication at the time of testing, drug testing does not measure impairment, and there is usually a delay of several days in getting a laboratory report. Drug testing also does not determine the quantity of the drug consumed, or when it was consumed. Although alcohol programs in the workplace are now the rule rather than the exception, creating a drug-free workplace seems to take precedence over establishing a workplace free from both drugs and alcohol. The main reason is that the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1998 requires mandatory testing of federal employees and requires that all federal contractors must provide a drug-free workplace as a precondition of receiving contracts or grants. Also, in 1995-96, the federal Department of Transportation initiated alcohol and drug testing and requires annual random testing of all commercial drivers. There is no comparable law for alcohol abuse, and historically most male-dominated workplace cultures accept the use of alcohol. Many even encourage drinking as a way to build solidarity and show conformity to the group. As a result, most firms are "tough" on illicit drugs but "soft" on alcohol, and it is common knowledge among workers that anti-drinking policies are rarely enforced. Even if a firm is not dependent on government contracts, it still makes sense to establish a policy on drugs and alcohol. The reason: failure to do so could constitute a breach of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration's General Duty clause requirement to maintain a safe workplace. Establishing a substance abuse program also demonstrates an employer's commitment to maintaining a safe workplace and high product quality. And, finally, lost productivity related to alcohol alone has been estimated to cost industry $70 billion to $120 billion a year. To formulate and implement a drug free job environment, an employer should establish a representative group of employees to develop a policy. The policy should include provisions to provide assistance for rehabilitation and counseling, even though only 27% of small businesses currently offer employee assistance programs. Confidentiality also should be a major concern. Employee assistance programs (EAP's) work better if they are conducted at the work site rather than someplace else. Employees are more likely to take advantage of an internal EAP rather than an external one. Drugs to be covered by the policy should include cannabis (marijuana and hashish), heroin, cocaine, MDMA (Ecstasy), opium, amphetamine morphine, and hallucinogens (LSD and PCP). A sample drug-free workplace policy that also covers alcohol can be found on the Web and is a good starting point. The prototype policy was prepared by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. Substance abuse policies should include education, training, and healthy lifestyle programs, as these can have a positive effect on a person's behavior. But they also must clearly state that anyone reporting to work under the influence of alcohol or other unauthorized drugs may be released without any caution.