As a Consortium/Third Party Administrator that manages drug testing programs for businesses and organizations, our safety specialists at TSS are sometimes asked why we consider drug and alcohol testing essential to workplace safety.

The best answer may be another question: Do you really want the people driving your trucks, operating your heavy equipment, or even climbing a ladder or working on a hot stove to be high, drunk or hungover from using drugs?

Testing is probably the best deterrent for keeping employees who are impaired, intoxicated or out of it from putting their or other people’s safety at risk in the workplace.

Yet even with testing, the prevalence of substance use among the American workforce is highly concerning

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article reporting the results of the newest Quest Diagnostics Drug Test Index, positive drug tests among U.S. workers have hit a two-decade high.  

Of the more than six million general workforce urine tests performed by Quest Diagnostics Inc. last year, there was an increase of more than 8% from 2020. That figure is up 50% since 2017, the article reported. The increase is driven by positive marijuana tests.

Meanwhile, labor shortages and the legalization of recreational marijuana in certain states is causing some businesses, that are not federally mandated to test, to stop testing for marijuana altogether.

A senior vice president at staffing firm ManpowerGroup, told WSJ: “The elimination of marijuana screening is one of the most common ways companies are seeking to expand their pool of eligible workers. ManpowerGroup estimates that pre-employment drug testing eliminates about 5% of candidates.”

The Cost of Workplace Substance Use

But is no longer testing really the answer from a safety perspective? These employers may be seeing some short-term benefits, but in the long run, they could be looking at some major costs.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), accident risk rises significantly when a person is under the influence or suffering from after-effects, such as compromised reflexes and judgment. About 40 percent of all industrial workplace fatalities are caused by substance abusers. Meanwhile, workers who abuse or misuse substances are more likely to injure themselves. They are five times more likely to file a worker compensation claim, and 35 percent of those worker compensation claims involve drugs or alcohol.

But that’s just the beginning. According to OSHA, businesses report about $7,000 of lost revenue each month because of substance abuse. The losses come in productivity, absenteeism, and accidents. Overall, substance abuse costs U.S. employers $285 billion annually.

As small businesses owners, we all make difficult choices to save money or solve hiring issues. However, the long-term costs that come with eliminating drug testing (specifically, marijuana testing) are too high. Keeping substance use out of the workplace and protecting the safety of our employees and communities is worth the investment into a robust drug testing program.