Toolbox Talk- Workplace Impairment

Many Americans who struggle with a form of drug and alcohol abuse are employed and maintain a job. In fact, the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reported that over 70% of abusers are employed, many of which who hide usage and impairment.  Workplace impairments endanger the well-being and safety of employees, customers, and the public.

While many aspects of the workplace require an employee to regularly be alert and have motor coordination, being impaired can interfere with responsibilities as well as increasing incidents. According to US Drug Test Centers, researchers estimate that $81 billion is spent annually on the effects drug abuse has in the workplace, which covers the costs of absenteeism, accidents, healthcare, and lost productivity.

Those who are able to hide their addiction could still show signs that suggest a problem. Someone who possibly uses it on the job might avoid their coworkers or have different behavior around others. Additional indications include talking about financial problems, a decline in personal hygiene and consistently taking time off of work.

While OSHA states that employees “… shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act” workplace impairment does not have hard guidelines on how to handle it. To avoid health and safety violations, companies can begin training employees on how to recognize impairments and their symptoms.

Developing a comprehensive, compliant safety program can help reduce impairment. This can ensure there is a procedure and policy in place that maintains a consistent manner. Components of a policy should include a purpose statement, rules, procedures, and any additional considerations. Employees should be notified of the implementation as well as acknowledge all individuals understand the policy.

Here are five steps to develop a protocol to recognize and handle workplace impairment.

  • Step 1. Accurately record complaints. Ask employees specific questions about what behavior and signs they’ve seen and how often it occurs.
  • Step 2. Observe the Employee. Taking the initiative when complaints begin is very important. Management should observe the employee behavior firsthand.
  • Step 3. Address safety concerns. Once signs are shown, the employee should be immediately removed from working.
  • Step 4. Document individual observations. All documentation should be as specific as possible and outlines unusual behaviors or physical signs.
  • Step 5. Compare documented observations. If there is a pattern among all notes, it might be time to bring in a third party.

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