Opinion: How Companies Can Benefit from a Drug-Free Workplace

This op-ed was submitted by Damian Simoneaux, LWCC safety services manager. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, LWCC is a single-state, private mutual workers’ comp company.

Substance abuse and dependence is an unfortunate and disheartening reality that affects Americans from all walks of life. Addiction is an equalizer that does not discriminate based on age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. 

According to the Surgeon General, 20.8 million people meet the criteria for substance use disorder. This equates to nearly 8 percent of the country’s population and a huge portion of the American workforce – which has a real impact on U.S. companies.

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The U.S. Department of Labor designates Oct. 16-22 National Drug-Free Work Week, which is a great time for companies to develop drug-free workplace policies. 

HOW DOES EMPLOYEE SUBSTANCE ABUSE AFFECT EMPLOYERS?

Research is clear on the financial ramifications associated with workplace substance abuse, but a high price is also paid in human capital. When even one employee battles substance use disorder, the entire organization is at risk.

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Workers’ Compensation 

When a worker has been injured as the result of alcohol or illicit drug abuse, employers could pay the price in their policy premiums. Unfortunately, when an employee has an SUD, they are also five times more likely to file a workers’ compensation claim. 

Medical Costs 

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Those who suffer from substance use disorder are more likely to encounter costly medical conditions than their sober peers. According to a report from the National Safety Council, these employees cost an average of $1,852 more in healthcare premiums. 

Unsafe Work Environment 

Substance abuse comes with some well-known side effects which add up to an increased risk for workplace injury. Research has shown that employees with an SUD are 3.6 times more likely to be involved in workplace accidents, presenting a risk to both themselves and their co-workers. ‍

Reduced Productivity 

While their sober colleagues will have days that are less productive than others, day-to-day productivity of an addicted employee will average 33 percent lower. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, this lack of productivity costs employers $49 billion each year.

WHAT’S THE BENEFIT OF A DRUG-FREE WORK CULTURE?

The Nationwide Medical Review suggests seven transformative benefits of promoting a drug-free culture in the workplace:

  • Reduce operational costs.
  • Preserve investor or shareholder interests.
  • Protect loyal employees.
  • Improve products and services.
  • Result in better service to customers and clients
  • Increase profits.
  • Help many people lead healthier lives.

HOW CAN COMPANIES BEGIN TO CREATE A DRUG-FREE WORK ENVIRONMENT?

Employers should implement workplace practices that encourage safe, healthy lifestyles and discourage behaviors that are counter-productive, both from a personal and a business perspective. 

Employers can protect themselves and their employees by taking these steps:

  • Recognize the impact of drug misuse on the bottom line.
  • Get a comprehensive drug-free workplace program or review an existing policy and program.
  • The substance abuse policy should be in writing and delivered to each employee in written form and acceptance should be signed and dated by the employee.
  • The policy should require post-accident testing.
  • Drug testing should be completed within 24 hours of an accident.
  • Invest in an Employee Assistance Program.
  • Employ additional methods of drug-testing.
  • Ensure employees are being educated as the drug scene is constantly changing.
  • Provide supervisors with the tools to effectively do their job.

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