Both surveys and drug testing are showing spikes in employees showing up for work impaired by drugs and alcohol. This article in EHS Daily reports that a majority of adults in the workforce (61%) have a substance use disorder (SUD), according to government data cited by the National Safety Council (NSC).
Positive drug tests for marijuana are at a 25-year high, according to a private testing laboratory chain.
Both the NSC and the federal government are offering employers new guidance and resources for handling workplace substance use and overdoses.
Unintentional workplace overdose deaths reached an all-time high of 464 in 2021, according to the NSC. Deaths on the job from drug overdoses have increased 536% since 2011, according to the group.
Employers are more concerned about hiring qualified workers and the costs of employee benefits and workers’ compensation than about alcohol and drugs (including workplace opioid misuse).
However, a recent NSC survey of employers found that:
While 86% believe that even taking opioids as prescribed can impair workers’ job performance, only 60% have policies in place for keeping employees safe when workers take prescription opioids.
White House employer guidance, ‘toolkit’
The four “pillars” of the government’s Recovery-Ready Workplace program include prevention and risk reduction, training and education, hiring and employment, and treatment and recovery support. Workplace prevention involves employer actions, policies, and programs to reduce risk factors for substance misuse, such as work-related injuries and employer policies regarding the use of opioids for treatment of pain under insurance or health plans.
The ONDCP recommends that employers take several risk-reduction steps, including:
Reducing the risk of injuries that require opioid prescriptions for pain treatment, such as ergonomic/repetitive motion injuries and overexertion (lifting heavy items), by reviewing and updating workplace policies, procedures, and practices.
Examining how opioids are used to treat pain under health insurance and workers’ compensation plans, especially in the treatment of work-related injuries.
Assessing whether a lack of medical or disability leave incentivizes employees to use opioids in a rush to get back to work after an injury.
Identifying and working to address social factors that can foster substance misuse, such as excessive or unpredictable work hours or “toxic work environments.”
Examining practices and policies around alcohol use during work-related social events and other work activities.
Topics recommended for worker education and training include SUD and recovery, the company’s substance use policies, and benefits like employee assistance programs (EAP) for addiction treatment.
The Recovery-Ready Workplace guidance also suggests that managers and supervisors communicate with employees about substance misuse and SUDs.
Earlier this year, the NSC launched the new workplace safety program Respond Ready Workplace to help employers combat the rise in workplace drug overdoses. The new program replaces an earlier “Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit,” unveiled in 2019.
Elements of the Respond Ready Workplace program include:
Regardless of whether nearly two-thirds of workers have an SUD, preemployment and post-accident drug testing shows a clear spike in substance use.
Earlier this year, private laboratory testing chain Quest Diagnostics announced that the percentage of employees in the workforce who tested positive in 2022 for marijuana following an on-the-job accident reached its highest level in 25 years. The post-accident marijuana positivity of urine drug tests in the general U.S. workforce was 7.3%, an increase of 9% compared with 6.7% in 2021.
The increases in post-accident marijuana positivity correspond with legalization of marijuana in several states, according to Quest Diagnostics. However, Quest Diagnostics’ testing also shows a rise in positive tests for amphetamines.
The NSC argues that when voters or state legislatures decriminalize or legalize cannabis possession, they should also pass laws restricting marijuana-impaired driving and marijuana impairment at work.
The NSC believes the effects of decriminalizing recreational cannabis use include:
Increased risk of injury on roads and in the workplace due to marijuana’s effect on cognitive dexterity, judgment, and reflexes.
An increase in motor vehicle accidents involving THC in states following the passage of medical or recreational marijuana laws.
James P. Randisi, President of Randisi & Associates, Inc., has been helping employers protect their clients, workforce and reputation through implementation of employment screening and drug testing programs since 1999. This post does not constitute legal advice. Randisi & Associates, Inc. is not a law firm. Always contact competent employment legal counsel. Mr. Randisi can be contacted by phone at 410.494.0232 or Email: email@example.com or the website at randisiandassociates.com