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Assessing the risks of employee drug use

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Assessing the risks of employee drug use

How can you judge if your organization will benefit from a drug-free workplace program? The following information can help you assess the risks, costs, and benefits in relation to your own needs and resources.

The assessment process is not an exact science. There are no right or wrong answers. One way to begin an assessment is to analyze the cost of alcohol and other drug abuse, such as:

  • Health care utilization costs
  • Losses due to:
    • Theft
    • Absenteeism
    • Accidents

Monitoring these same costs over time can help you assess the impact and success of your drug-free workplace program. The risks, costs, and benefits will differ with every organization. A careful assessment can show which program options offer clear advantages and are affordable and which ones are not needed at this time. The following are some questions you should ask when deciding the best course of action.

What are the risks?

Consider a variety of scenarios in which a substance abuser might affect your workplace:

  • Do certain employees perform key functions of the organization?
    • Brokers handling large sums of money
    • Technicians monitoring essential equipment such as computers, nuclear power dials, etc.
    • Salespersons representing the company
  • Do you have employees in positions where alcohol or other drug abuse would be difficult to detect?
    • Employees who work at home
    • Traveling salespersons
    • Home health care workers
  • Do you have employees in "safety sensitive" jobs?
    • Driving vehicles
    • Operating machinery
    • Managing a place of public entry such as a security checkpoint
  • Do you have employees in "security sensitive" jobs?
    • Responsible for inventory or stock
    • Responsible for ideas, products, plans, and proprietary material
    • Responsible for financial accounting or cash
    • Responsible for confidential documents

Can you afford to lose a valuable employee who is in trouble? Will loss of the employee affect this year's productivity and bottom line? How much will it cost to recruit, hire, and train someone new? What do you predict would happen to production and client satisfaction if an alcohol or other drug abuse problem goes unresolved?

For some employers, one accident, one major financial problem, or one breach of confidentiality can place the entire operation in jeopardy. If someone in your workforce is not fit to perform his or her job because of alcohol or other drug abuse, the risk may be significant.

What are the benefits?

Drug-free workplace programs can have both short- and long-term benefits. Employers who have already started drug-free workplace programs report significant benefits:

Short-term benefits:

  • Cost savings and incentive programs offered by:
    • Medical and health insurance carriers
    • Property, casualty, and liability insurance carriers
    • Workers' Compensation insurance carriers
  • Less chance that a current user/abuser will apply for a job or be hired
  • Ability to respond quickly when problems with alcohol or other drug abuse arise
  • Fewer accidents
  • Fewer disciplinary actions
  • Reduced losses due to absenteeism, theft, and fraud

Long-term benefits:

  • Improved employee morale and productivity
  • Lower costs due to losses and errors
  • Reduced costs of insurance claims
  • Greater employee awareness about alcohol and other drug abuse as well as other health issues
  • Earlier identification and resolution of problems affecting job performance
  • Decreased legal costs and costs of hiring and training new employees

The costs of alcohol and other drug abuse

In 1989 the Department of Labor took a comprehensive look at the costs of alcohol and other drug abuse in the workplace. Some costs were easy to see. Others were hidden costs employers might not normally think about. The list below offers a basis for assessing the possible costs of alcohol and other drug abuse in your workplace:

  • Absenteeism
    • Wages paid for days absent or for time tardy
    • Wages paid for temporary staff to fill in
  • Accidents/damage
    • Wages paid for days absent
    • Wages paid for unproductive hours during downtime
    • Wages paid for temporary personnel
    • Increased expenses for medical claims
    • Cost of replacing damaged equipment
    • Legal fees, court fees, investigative fees, travel costs
  • Health care
    • Increased costs for insurance, physicians, and hospitalization
    • Employee time lost
    • Administrative costs
  • Theft/fraud
    • Wages paid for unproductive hours during downtime
    • Cost of repairing damage or replacing stolen items
    • Cost of hiring security services and/or consulting services
    • Legal fees, court fees, investigative costs, travel costs

In addition, business opportunities may be lost because people are not on the job or are not fully productive. Another major cost is the time spent by coworkers, supervisors, and administrators who must find ways to get the work done when someone is not pulling his or her weight. Keep in mind that while there may be more cases of alcohol and other drug abuse in larger firms than in smaller ones, a single troubled employee can have a major impact on a smaller firm.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Sevices Administration

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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