Drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace is harmful for everyone. Substance use can impair a worker’s ability to make cognitive decisions, emotions, actions, etc. and you never know how someone will behave under the influence. Most importantly, the safety of the employer, the employee and their co-workers and customers may be put at risk. But workplace substance use also affects your business and bottom line.

Research shows that workplace substance use leads to:

  • A loss of productivity and job performance
  • Workplace accidents and injuries
  • Employee absenteeism 
  • High turnover
  • Low employee morale
  • Theft
  • Conflict among employees or with supervisors

The Research

Did you know that the average worker misses about 15 days of work per year for accidents, illnesses or other reasons, not related to vacation or holidays? Meanwhile, a person with a substance use disorder (SUD) misses about 24.6 days of work per year­ – close to double. Why? Because of the toll substance use takes on their general health and because they tend to be more prone to accidents and injuries at home and in the workplace. Now, guess what? An employee in recovery misses less work than both groups, approximately 10.6 days annually.

That all boils down to dollars. When folks are not at work, productivity is lost. Furthermore, there is a much higher rate of turnover among employees with an SUD. The National Safety Council (NSC) found that workers with an SUD are over 40% more likely to report having more than one employer in a year, than those who don’t have substance issues. Often they just quit or it becomes necessary to separate from them to protect the business, resulting in additional time and money spent on interviewing, hiring and training new employees. On average, the hiring process costs employers about 21% of an employee’s salary.

According to a recent study by NSC and the University of Chicago, the average cost to employers per employee with an untreated SUD is $8,255 annually. This is a 400% increase since 2012. Also, worth noting: the data used for the NSC and U. of C. research was gathered before the COVID-19 pandemic which experts know has caused a major spike in substance use.

Furthermore, certain industries and worker demographics have more instances of on-the-job alcohol and drug use. For example, construction, mining, and safety-sensitive jobs (like commercial trucking and air traffic control) have a higher rate of substance use than most businesses. Additionally, it is more common to see substance abuse in male-dominated industries. In turn, it is these businesses that feel a disproportionate impact from substance use.

So, what can we do?

  1. First and foremost, review your workplace drug and alcohol policy. All employees should know and understand the expectations of the employer. When we know better, we do better.

  2. Does your company offer any assistance to those who self-report and are seeking help? Supporting those who want help, not only is the right thing to do, but is also good for business. The cost savings to employers for retaining workers in recovery is more than $8,500 on average, the study found. Workers in recovery tend to be strong employees. They take fewer days off, tend to stay in jobs longer are less likely to be hospitalized and have fewer primary care visits than workers without substance use issues.

    Ensuring that your team knows where to find help and how to access it, is critical. If all you do is put the National Helpline on the bulletin board, you have at least planted a seed. It’s 800-662-HELP (4357). Your community likely has resources, as well. If you need assistance finding a resource, call TSS at (877) 225-1431.

  3. Next, be sure that your supervisors/foreman are trained in Reasonable Suspicion for substance use. Documentation, discussion and how to handle potential drug use at work must be done appropriately. TSS regularly offers this training as a webinar. You can also or participate in the training at your convenience by signing up for our ONLINE course.  

It is important for employers to stay on top of the regulations and understand how to keep their workplace safe. At the end of the day, we all want the best for our team. That means, supporting them with good resources if they need them, keeping them as healthy as we can and ensuring that nobody’s safety is put at risk because of on-the-job impairment.

TSS stands ready to assist you with any of your safety needs. Our Certified Occupational Safety Specialist/CEO, Renee Schofield, can bring an array of support to your workplace. We are the one-stop-shop for all things safety!