GREENVILLE — Substance abuse comes with a cost, paid not only by a person abusing drugs or alcohol, or for their families, but by their employers.
That was the message Darke County business representatives heard during the Darke County Safety Council meeting held Thursday at Brethren Retirement Community.
Troy Boughan, business consultant with the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC), was on hand to discuss a variety of topics related to substance abuse in the workplace, including how to build a drug-free workplace, identifying warning signs of substance abuse, and how employers should handle the issue when it is discovered.
Boughan said 15 to 17 percent of any U.S. workforce uses alcohol or drugs.
“This statistic actually refers to the abuser of alcohol or use drugs in an illegal manner,” he explained.
“You might think of the drug abuser as the person laying on the street. That’s not the case,” he added, pointing out that 74 percent of substance abusers are employed. “Many of them are productive, many hold a full-time job. Ninety percent of alcoholics are employed and hold a full-time job.”
He further showed that substance abusers cost employers $7,000 to $25,000 per year. However, the cost of workplace drug or alcohol abuse goes beyond a cash figure.
“Forty percent of industrial fatalities, and 47 percent of industrial accidents involve alcohol or drugs,” he said. “And 40 percent of the time, they’re injuring a co-worker.”
“Users are anywhere from 33 to 50 percent less productive than non-users,” he remarked. “They’re responsible for 35 percent of all absenteeism. They incur 300 to 400 percent more medical costs, and they and their families use their health benefits eight times more often than non users.”
He also pointed out that substance abusers are three to four times more likely to be involved in workplace accidents, suffer injuries 150 percent more severe, and file workers compensation claims five times more often than non users.
Theft in the workplace is another subject touched upon by Boughan.
“Fifty to 80 percent of pilferage, loss and theft can be attributed to use of alcohol or drugs,” he said.
“It’s affecting your bottom line if you aren’t doing anything to address the use of drugs and alcohol as it affects the workplace,” he added.
If employers have not already formulated a workplace substance abuse police, Boughan told them that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established new record-keeping requirements on workplace injuries that come into play, including a prohibition against retaliating against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses.
“Often there is testing for employees after there’s been an accident,” he said. “OSHA has determined that although the rule does not address post-accident testing, nor does it prohibit it, they have interpreted it to say that post-accident drug testing can be a deterrent to reporting injuries.”
However, employers will not be in violation of the “retaliation” rule if that business is participating in a state or federal workplace safety program.
Boughman also broached the subject of medical marijuana, legalized (with many restrictions) in Ohio last fall.
“It is now legal to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, and that can affect your workplace,” he said.
He pointed out that nothing in the law requires an employer to accommodate a medical marijuana user, but offered that businesses should pre-empt the issue by having a clear standard their drug-free workplace policies.
He further noted that the law also does not require the BWC to pay for patient access to marijuana, even with a physician’s prescription.
“As far as marijuana in the workplace, you still have every right under Ohio’s law to test and prohibit the use of marijuana, even though it may be recommended by a physician,” he said.
In terms of recognizing substance abuse issues among employees, Boughan said it’s important that supervisors receive training.
“If your supervisors aren’t comfortable approaching someone who has possibly violated the policy, they aren’t fulfilling their role by trying to avoid that responsibility,” he said.
For identifying drug use in the workplace, Boughan said some of the signs can be obvious.
“Over time you notice they’re coming late to work,” he explained. “Their clothes are a little less than appealing, their hair is changing and not being kept as well, they might seem more irritated — things like that which may have a lot of reasons, but one of those reasons may be drugs and alcohol.”
He said that the substance being abused can also make a difference in terms of how easily its effects are observed.
“The effects of marijuana may be less obvious over a time, as the user of heroin could very well have all the signs I just talked about,” he said. “As far as their appearance changing, their personality changing, their personal hygiene changing — all those things would be much more quickly noticeable in a user of heroin than in a user of marijuana.”
Boughan encouraged Darke County businesses to be proactive in dealing with worker substance abuse, because it not only helps the employee and employer, but also the community at large.
“You’re very fortunate in this community that you have a lot of resources available for people with alcohol or drug abuse problems,” he said. “But your community may not know those. As an employer, you can be that mouthpiece for the education of your employees, making sure they understand what resources are available in the community if you have a problem.”
The Darke County Safety Council is co-sponsored by the Darke County Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Division of Safety and Hygiene.
EDS NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing series titled “Fatal Addiction” that will address the drug problem and effects on residents and resources in Darke County.