Creating workplaces where we all watch out for each other

Creating workplaces where we all watch out for each other


Substance Abuse In the Workplace – Solutions that go Way Beyond Drug Testing

While attending a mining industry safety meeting, the topic of substance abuse in the workplace came up. As a part of this discussion a senior safety professional working for a large mining operator made the comment that drug testing is NOT the solution. Although the point was more about testing being ineffective at identifying the ever changing and growing variety of substances available and used in this country along with the threat of job loss failing as a deterrent, I also got the sense that this person felt somewhat resigned that this issue is beyond what we are able to manage.

I completely agree that Fit for Duty programs relying on drug testing to keep workers under the influence out of situations dangerous to themselves and others have always been inadequate at identifying and addressing the true issue are more outdated now than ever before. As an industry and as nation we have slowly been shifting our view on mental health. We are recognizing mental health illnesses and incidents as conditions which need to be diagnosed and treated as opposed to seeing it as a personal weakness or failure. However, including substance abuse under the mental health umbrella may be lagging a bit behind. I believe this may be a part of the challenge in implementing programs which may actually reduce the risks this hazards brings into the workplace (not to mention the profoundly devasting impact on communities and families).

Like many workplace hazards, identifying the root cause and proactively addressing is key. Now when it comes to mental health disorders, including substance abuse, there are a whole multitude of contributing factors many (possibly most) are completely detached from the workplace. Therefore, In order to best mitigate these risks we can put programs in place which help to identify individuals who may need treatment. Similar to workplace violence and suicide prevention strategies, this requires us to pay attention to each other, be willing to talk about mental health (including substance abuse) and educate the workforce on resources available to assist those in need.

It is also important to recognize and minimize the stressors created by the workplace itself and enhance prevention programs to both acknowledge and address. Common contributors to mental health incidents created by the workplace include:

  • Work schedules (especially when there are conflict with family commitments)
  • Not having the tools, equipment, or other resources to get the job done right (or safely)
  • Injuries/ Work related illnesses
  • Lack of Paid Time Off
  • Lack of training
  • Poor overall morale/ satisfaction
  • Deadlines/Productivity goals (especially when resources to achieve are inadequate)

While prevention, through workplace cultures which normalize mental health and focus on intervention and treatment, is the best place to start we can also minimize the impact of substance abuse incidents at work as well. Recently the National Safety Council introduced its Respond Ready Workplace Program. According to the NSC website, “Through Respond Ready Workplace, NSC aims to reduce overdose deaths in worksites by supporting the availability of naloxone, related training and support resources in workplaces.” They are actively promoting and encouraging the addition of Narcan/Naloxone to first aid/ emergency response supplies and protocols. Beyond being a tool to literally save someone who has overdosed, by including this tool into our safety and health programs, we are directly shaping the culture through open discussions on substance abuse while shifting away from punishment and judgement. Which, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, is ineffective.

McCraren Compliance offers training and programs to assist the mining and construction communities implementing Fit for Duty programs such as Opioids in the Workplace, Workplace Suicide Prevention, Workplace Violence Prevention, Substance Abuse and Reasonable Suspicion and  many more. Contact Us to find out more.