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The fact that some people use substances such as alcohol or illicit drugs, or that some people misuse prescription drugs is not new. The awareness that the use and abuse of substances may affect the workplace just as the workplace may affect how a person uses substances is, however, increasing in acceptance. Many aspects of the workplace require alertness, and accurate and quick reflexes. An impairment to these qualities can cause incidents, and interfere with the accuracy and efficiency of work.
Ways that problematic substance use may cause issues at work include:
Note that substance use is often thought of as an addiction or dependence, but use can be anywhere on the spectrum or scale from recreational to frequent to problematic. As a result, there are varying impacts on lives and work. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health use the following “4 C’s” to describe addiction:
This document will discuss issues such as how problematic substance use may affect the workplace, possible costs to an organization, and how an organization can address such issues.
|Category||Examples||Examples of General Effects|
|Alcohol||beer, wine, spirits||impaired judgement, slowed reflexes, impaired motor function, sleepiness or drowsiness, coma, overdose may be fatal|
|Cannabis||marijuana, hashish||distorted sense of time, impaired memory, impaired coordination|
|Depressants||sleeping medicines, sedatives, some tranquilizers||inattention, slowed reflexes, depression, impaired balance, drowsiness, coma, overdose may be fatal|
|Hallucinogens||LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), PCP (phencyclidine), mescaline||inattention, sensory illusions, hallucinations, disorientation, psychosis|
|Inhalants||hydrocarbons, solvents, gasoline||intoxication similar to alcohol, dizziness, headache|
|Nicotine||cigarettes, chewing tobacco, snuff||initial stimulant, later depressant effects|
|Opiates||morphine, heroin, codeine, some prescription pain medications||loss of interest, "nodding", overdose may be fatal. If used by injection, the sharing of needles may spread Hepatitis B, or C and HIV/AIDS.|
|Stimulants||cocaine, amphetamines||elevated mood, overactivity, tension/anxiety, rapid heartbeat, constriction of blood vessels|
(Source: Blume, S.B., Alcohol and Drug Abuse in the Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety 4th edition, International Labour Office, 1998)
The economic impacts of substance use in Canada to businesses or industry have been traditionally difficult to measure. Many costs are hidden by general absenteeism or illnesses, "unnoticed" lack of productivity, or inability or reluctance to link substance use directly with causes of incidents.
Costs to a business may be both direct and indirect. The impact of substance use that have been reported include:
Additional costs can include:
Various and numerous organizational, personal and social factors can play a major role why a person may choose to use a substance. In general, however, some work-related factors can include:
Work can be an important place to address substance use issues. Employers and employees can collaborate to design policies which outline what is an acceptable code of behaviour and what is not. By establishing or promoting programs such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), employers can help employees more directly or provide referrals to community services.
The policy can cover substance use issues, or it can use an overall approach such as impairment in the workplace. The main goal is that workplaces are encouraged to establish a procedure or policy so that help can be provided in a professional and consistent manner. It is important for supervisors and managers to have a resource or procedure that they can rely on if the need arises. Employees need to know that everyone will be treated the same way. These actions help to reduce the stigma associated with substance use. When stigma is reduced, it is hoped that people will seek help without fear, and will speak openly about substance use issues. Early treatment and support is encouraged.
In addition, managers and supervisors should be educated in how to recognize and deal with substance use issues and employees should be offered educational programs. Note it is not the role of the supervisor or employer to diagnose a possible substance use or dependency problem. Their role is to identify if an employee is impaired, and to take the appropriate steps as per the organization’s policy.
A substance use or impairment in the workplace policy should emphasize that the program is confidential and be jointly created by both labour and management.
Elements of the policy would include: