April is National Alcohol Awareness Month. Studies show that increased alcohol consumption is among the challenges that have come out of the pandemic and is bound to spill over into the workplace. That’s why this year, we urge employers to make a special effort to understand the signs of alcohol use at work, know about prevention strategies and support workers who are seeking treatment.
Alcohol is the most used substance by youth and adults in the United States. In 2019, 25.8 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month; 6.3 percent reported that they engaged in heavy alcohol use in the past month. Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. About 95,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes each year.
When widespread COVID-19 lockdowns began in March 2020, alcohol sales skyrocketed, increasing by 54 percent at liquor stores and 262 percent online. Although these increases did not remain at these levels, between February 2020 and February 2021, sales grew a total of 20 percent, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. A study by Alcohol.org reported that about a third of people in the U.S. who have been working from home are drinking during work hours.
It’s still too early to know what this means for the workplace. But certainly, we need to be extra vigilant as most people return to their offices, job sites, stores and factories.
The costs of alcoholism and alcohol abuse manifest themselves in many different ways in the workplace. Having an impaired employee threatens the safety of everyone connected to your business and the general public. Accidents and on-the-job injuries are far more prevalent among alcoholics and alcohol abusers. Absenteeism is estimated to be four to eight times greater among alcoholics and alcohol abusers. On-the-job alcohol use tends to result in lost productivity and increased healthcare costs, which have a direct impact on the bottom line.
What can an employer do?
TSS’ certified safety specialists advise that keeping substance use out of the workplace starts with, a comprehensive and well-articulated workplace drug and alcohol policy and screening program, combined with education for all employees and specialized training for supervisors. (We can help. Contact TSS for assistance in developing a drug and alcohol policy. Then, have your supervisors sign up for our Signs & Symptoms webinar or online course.)
The employer should:
- Be aware of the signs and symptoms of alcohol use or abuse. (Sign up for our April 20 webinar or our online course.)
- Immediately remove an employee who appears intoxicated from a safety-sensitive job.
- Keep clear documentation of any concerning behaviors you have witnessed.
- Meet with the employee privately and away from coworkers.
- Point out patterns of poor performance or tardiness.
- Do not judge, reprimand or accuse the employee.
- Give the employee a chance to talk about what is going on. The employee might admit to having a problem with alcohol or reveal an alternative medical or mental condition that is causing these behaviors.
- Assist the employee in getting help, usually starting with referring them to the company’s employee assistance program (EAP).
- Send the employee for drug and alcohol testing.
- If an employee’s behavior is disruptive, they may need to be removed from the workplace for their safety and the safety of others.
To learn more about dealing with substance use in the workplace, visit our website at tss-safety.com or give us a call at (877) 225-1431.