OSHA recently released a statement proclaiming that in 2017 workplace fatalities were down from 3.6 to 3.5 percent. Much of this was due to fewer crane accidents, and fewer workplace related fatalities in manufacturing. That is good news. But, buried in the release was the fact that unintentional fatalities due to nonmedical drug and alcohol overdoses in the workplace had increased by 25% –
for the fifth year in a row! In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded that 82 people nationwide died in the workplace from unintentional overdoses. In 2017, 272 met their fate from drugs and alcohol through unintentional overdosing. That’s more than one person each workday. To see the full report, follow this link:
In their statement, OSHA states that “The scourge of opioid addiction unfortunately continues to take its toll on workers across the country….” (A link to the full press release is found to the right.) In their workplace safety topics, NIOSH has a page dedicated to the misuse of opioids. In addressing the issue, NIOSH states that “…the potential for addiction may be preceded by injuries that happen in the workplace, with the consequences affecting both an individual’s working life as well as their home life.”
The unfortunate truth is that the focus on the opioid addiction crisis in the US takes the focus off other increasingly problematic addictions to alcohol and other drugs, both medically-related as is often the opioid problem, and nonmedical drugs. Addictions to anything that impairs function and attention to the job is an issue in the workplace.
What are some of these consequences of alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace? The person on drugs and/or alcohol is impaired. Depending on what is ingested or injected, the results can vary, but here are just a few of the problems of this type impairment:
- Mistakes can be made that affect others and work production and/or cause injuries.
- Increased sick leave usage may leave the workforce short-handed, affecting work production.
- Impairment may lead to damage of equipment and/or vehicles.
- “Hang-overs” may lead to temporary memory-loss, forgetting appointments and commitments.
- Inability to learn a new technique or process.
As safety professionals, we need to be alarmed and proactive!
When you see someone that is making increasingly more mistakes or has more lapses of judgement than should be happening, what should you do? Tell them. They may resist your comments, but they need to be confronted. It might jeopardize a friendship or working relationship, but you probably are not saying anything that they don’t already know.
Additionally, tell a supervisor, face to face or if you prefer, by leaving an anonymous note. It may help the person who is having the issue to receive the heal and treatment they need. Understand that this may or may not solve the problem. Not all who are confronted with their alcohol and/or drug abuse problem are willing to do the hard work to overcome their problem. But some are, and those who overcome substance abuse are to be congratulated and celebrated.
One resource is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA.gov), which provides free guidance. They have a national helpline that is available 365 days a year and is open 24/7. Help is available in English and Spanish for anyone requesting it, whether it is for the addict, an affected family member, or a concerned friend. They can be reached at 800-662-HELP (4357). They can provide referrals to physical and mental health care professionals and substance abuse recovery centers.
Also to the right is a fact sheet from Worksafe Australia regarding the affect of addictions in the workplace. Take a look.
ews Release on Fatalities
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