The impact of drugs and alcohol on the workplace is staggering. The Australian Drug Foundation estimates that alcohol and other drugs have a business cost of $6 billion. The costs are associated with accidents (25 percent), employees taking a day-off, lost productivity, and so on.1 Instituting a drug and alcohol policy and random testing program are first steps in combating the terrible consequences of drug and alcohol misuse. However, simply having written D&A policy and procedures is not enough. Employers need a quality program that encompasses the body of knowledge concerning workplace substance abuse, which is always growing.
Drug and alcohol use and addiction is a complicated topic. At one time, people believed that anyone could overcome addiction without help, if the person was sincere about stopping substance abuse. Now there is increasing evidence that people actually “rewire” their brain, and making the decision to quit drugs and alcohol is not always possible without intervention. At one point, it was also believed that stress had a minimal impact on the decision to use drugs because it was all a matter of choice. After numerous surveys and studies, it is believed that workplace stressors do influence a person’s decision to consume drugs or alcohol.
In addition, it was fairly recent that health researchers began studying the impact of external factors on workplace drug use. External factors include an employee’s beliefs about taking drugs or drinking alcohol, family lifestyle, community cultural norms, and personal values. Employees arrive at the workplace with expectations, beliefs, perspectives, and a history of behaviours. In hindsight, it seems so obvious that people do not leave their personal lives behind just because they started working. Substance abuse is the result of a complicated mix of internal and external factors.2
Evaluate and Revise
Based on that premise and backed up by research, a quality and most effective workplace drug and alcohol program involves more than issuing a policy and conducting drug and alcohol tests. The Australian Drug foundation offers guidelines for developing a workplace policy. The policy should:3
- Be based on unique workplace risks, i.e. work location, type of work, co-worker subcultures, and so on
- Thoroughly and clearly delineate goals and objectives, and clearly state the employer’s position on substance use in the workplace
- Clearly describe relevant workplace issues and conditions and expected behaviours at business events, like office parties, meetings, and celebrations
- Outline procedures for responding to workers who test positive for drugs or alcohol, emphasising opportunities for counseling and rehabilitation
- Be clearly communicated and regularly reinforced through ongoing employee training and education
- Be clearly understood by managers and supervisors responsible for program management
- Go through regular evaluation to ensure the policy is relevant and successful
- Be presented in the context of workplace safety and employer health
Employers often overlook the evaluation step, yet that is the only way to verify whether goals are attained or that strategies are effective. The evaluation can report on the number of incidences, patterns of use, employee attitudes towards the policy, management perspectives, and other factors the employer considers important. When communicating drug testing procedures, it is important to present them in a way that raises awareness of workplace risks. It is common to mostly discuss things like who will be tested and who will do the testing. That is not enough because it removes drug and alcohol testing from the bigger picture of workplace health and safety and turns it into a rote procedure.
Focusing on What is Important
A quality drug and alcohol policy and program is focused on the people who make up the organisation and not just on monitoring. Poorly designed and implemented D&A policies and procedures can cause more harm than good in terms of employee relations and reducing workplace risks. The policy should be comprehensive, offer opportunities for counseling, require ongoing employee education, and be a major tool for creating a workplace culture of intolerance for drugs and alcohol. It is not something written, published, and then filed away, never to be changed or revised.
At CMM Technology (cmm.com.au), experienced professionals work closely with managers to provide the right type of drug and alcohol testing supplies that facilitate business objectives. The saliva, urine, and breath tests are designed to make testing as efficient as possible and add to the quality of the D&A program.
- ADF. (2010). Alcohol and drugs are a cost to your business. Retrieved from Australian Drug Foundation: http://bit.ly/1fD93NZ
- Ken Pidd & Ann Roche. (2013, July 1). Workplace alcohol and other drug programs: What is good practice? Retrieved from Australian Drug Foundation: http://bit.ly/1jDrh7D
- Pidd & Roche