Drugs, Alcohol, and Safety Do Not Mix

Drug TestingInjuries in the workplace are common…too common, unfortunately. Understanding why and how injuries occur helps management develop policies and procedures that minimize worker risks. However, there is no getting around the fact that employers and employees share responsibility for maintaining a safe workplace neither can do it alone. The employer has a duty to develop policies that promote a drug and alcohol free workplace, and to back up those policies with a random substance testing program. Workers have a duty to not use illicit drugs or alcohol in the workplace, and to inform employers if taking legal drugs that could impair the ability to safely perform job duties. By sharing the statistics on the number and seriousness of injuries with workers, employers can reinforce the importance of maintaining a substance free workplace.

No one really likes thinking about injuries. It seems more genteel to talk about workplace safety, but the thousands of injury claims each year represent a life interrupted to some degree. Most workers could probably not tell their employers how many people are seriously injured at work each year. People are optimistic by nature and tend to think, “It can’t happen to me.” Yet, the approximately 128,000 people seriously injured at work in 2009-2010 1 represent an incident rate of 12.6 people per 1,000 employees. A typical claim led to 12 or more weeks off work. More disturbing is the fact, 216 workers died due to an injury incurred in 2009-2010.1 The cost of injuries and illnesses were more than $61 billion or 4.8 percent of GDP. Some of the injuries and deaths are drug and alcohol related. Though the statistics vary from year to year, it is clear that workplace injury is not a topic to be ignored.

What type of injuries do workers incur? Sprains and strains to joints and surrounding muscles accounted for 43 percent of injuries in 2009-2010. Other injuries included fractures, open wounds, contusions, disorders involving soft tissues, back injuries, deafness, mental disorders, burns, hernias, dislocations, and a variety of other injuries. The injuries are caused by body stressing, falls and trips, being hit by a moving object, noise, vehicle accidents, heat and electricity, chemicals, and other factors to a lesser degree. The industries with the highest rate of fatalities associated with injuries incurred at work were agriculture/forestry/fishing, transport/postal/warehousing, construction, and manufacturing. However, numerous other industries experienced fatalities and some are surprising. For example, in 2009-2010, the administrative services industry had 9 fatalities and the retail trade had 8 fatalities.

What can employers learn from this information? First, it is apparent that there is no industry or job exempt from worker injuries. Second, since drugs and alcohol impair worker performance and increase the rate of injury, a drug and alcohol testing program plays a key role in reducing injury risks. Third, workers need to be informed as to the seriousness of injuries and how injuries can lead to death. Fourth, all factors need to be tied together to create a holistic picture to present in worker training and development programs. These factors include general health and safety, risks of injury and death, healthy lifestyles, and the impact of drug and alcohol use on safety. Though specific statistics on workplace injuries associated with drug use are difficult to obtain, it is estimated that alcohol is involved in approximately 5 percent of workplace deaths and 4-11 percent of workplace non-fatal injuries.

References

  1. Ken Pidd and Ann Roche. (2013, July). Workplace alcohol and other drug programs: What is good practice? Retrieved from Australian Drug Foundation: http://bit.ly/1bSjrAs
  2. Safe Work Australia. (2012). Key Work Health and Safety Statistics, Australia. Retrieved from Safe Work Australia: http://bit.ly/IXXHt3

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