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Why Your Safety Plan Should Address Drug Usage in the Workplace

Friday, August 12, 2022
Chris Pfeiffer

By: Chris Pfieffer; Team Manager of Horton Safety Consultants

The positive drug test rate for U.S. workers has reached its highest level in the last 20 years. These numbers are especially high in the transportation/warehousing, construction and manufacturing industries. These fields are already at a high risk of injuries – and drug usage in the workplace will further increase that likelihood.

Now more than ever, it is important that companies evaluate their safety plans to address drug usage and prevent employees from showing up to the job under the influence. This article will provide background information on the latest facts about drug usage in the workplace and offer suggestions for companies to address this growing issue.

Drug Usage in the Workplace: The Hard Facts

Researchers from Quest Diagnostics examined more than 11 million samples last year from both the general workforce and employees in safety-sensitive jobs who undergo federally mandated drug testing. Out of those samples, 4.6% of them tested positive – this is the highest-observed figure since 2001. Last year, the marijuana positivity rate in urine samples climbed to 3.9% – the highest ever recorded.

Out of all of the industries, the highest overall positivity rate increases were in transportation and warehousing (from 4.4% to 5.5%), retail trade (from 6.2% to 7%) and other services (from 5.7% to 6.6%). Additionally, mining (from 3.1% to 3.7%), construction (from 4.1% to 4.6%) and manufacturing (from 4.1% to 4.5%) all saw increases of at least 0.4 percentage points.

Marijuana wasn’t the only drug prevalent in the testing. The positivity rates for amphetamines and cocaine increased by 7.8% and 5% for federally mandated, safety-sensitive workers.

It’s no secret that operating machinery under the influence of drugs will increase the likelihood of an accident in the workplace. We certainly see a correlation in the recent data to prove this is true. Post-incident positivity among the general workforce has increased 26% over the past five years. Additionally, post-incident urine tests for marijuana and cocaine were up 63.4% and 266.7%, compared with pre-employment testing.

“Drug use affecting the work environment is a complex problem that is not going away,” said Jenny Burke, vice president of the impairment practice at the National Safety Council. “When workers use impairing substances, it can create incidents that compromise the safety of other workers and, in some cases, the general public. Employers should have the right and ability to maintain a substance-free workplace and the use of drug testing, including oral fluid, in addition to urine.”

Drug Testing Can Reduce Accidents and Premiums

If you haven’t already, it’s time to reevaluate your safety plan to ensure it addresses drug usage in the workplace. Preventative measures are important, but it is equally crucial to have reactionary steps laid out in the event of a drug-related accident.

One way to accomplish this is through regular drug testing. In high-risk industries, particularly those where employees are expected to operate heavy machinery, drug testing can prevent workplace accidents, reduce premium costs and increase productivity.

Pre-employment testing is an effective way of weeding out applicants, as it’s much easier to cut ties with a candidate rather than an employee. Additionally, post-accident drug testing should be completed within 12 hours of an incident. To avoid the appearance of discrimination, employers must test ALL employees whose conduct could have contributed to an incident or injury – not just the injured employee.

Some employers may even choose to implement random drug testing for all employees. If they don’t have a warning before a testing period, they might be more cautious and less likely to be under the influence. Regardless of which type of testing you choose to implement, it is important to look into your state’s drug testing laws and ensure you are being compliant.

Reevaluate Your Company’s Safety Program

An effective incentive program will identify, measure and reward the leading indicators responsible for driving the success of workplace safety. Leading indicator incentive programs can offer incentives for work areas free of unsafe conditions and behaviors. They can also offer incentive programs for supervisors who complete important tasks like employee training, work area audits and reporting hazards before an accident occurs.

Although it’s helpful to include drug testing as a part of your company’s safety program, it’s important to avoid incentive programs reward the absence of injuries. Those types of programs often reward luck, and they could also discourage employees from reporting workplace accidents. The most effective “incentive” to stop the unsafe behaviors of employees is to identify and correct them immediately after any incidents. With 90% of all accidents resulting from unsafe behaviors, front-line supervisors must challenge and fix these actions before they result in accidents and injuries.

Horton Safety Consultants offers an extensive array of safety training services, encompassing both specialized and general safety training, with exclusive access granted to our valued clients for these exceptional services. Set up a consultation with Chris Pfeiffer, Team Manager of Horton Safety Consultants.

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.