America’s businesses pay a high price for alcohol and drug abuse. Some costs — increased absences, accidents and errors — are obvious. Others, such as low employee morale and high illness rates, are less so, but the effects are equally harmful to workplace safety. The good news is that employers have enormous power to protect their organizations from alcohol and drug abuse by educating employees and volunteers about its dangers and encouraging individuals with alcohol and drug problems to seek help.
The term “drug-free workplace” is used generally to describe employer-sponsored substance abuse prevention programs. A comprehensive drug-free workplace program generally includes five components:
Although employers may choose not to include all five components, it is recommended that all be explored and considered when developing a drug-free workplace program. Research does show a positive relationship between the number of components included and a program’s overall effectiveness. However, it should be noted that drug testing is only one part of a comprehensive drug-free workplace program and may not be necessary or appropriate for many work sites.
A drug-free policy with enforceable consequences for disregarding the policy contributes to a safe workplace, because others’ behavior affects the safety of fellow workers. In some cases, the organization may be required by the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 to instigate such a policy.
Working Partners for an Alcohol- and Drug-Free Workplace is a U.S. Department of Labor initiative that raises awareness about the impact drugs and alcohol have on the workplace and provides information on how to establish drug-free workplace programs that protect worker safety and health. The online Drug-Free Workplace Advisor helps employers create drug-free workplace programs.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s online Drug-Free Workplace Advisor includes a powerful feature — the Program Builder. The Program Builder gives employers the ability to develop customized drug-free workplace programs for their companies. This interactive tool guides employers through the components of a written drug-free workplace policy and generates a policy statement based on their selection of options offered by the Program Builder. See the sample policy created using the Program Builder.
Other features include supervisor training and employee education resources on alcohol and drug abuse, including ready-to-use presentation and training materials that feature PowerPoint slides, overheads and handouts. In addition, the Advisor contains information about Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and drug testing services.
The Drug-Free Workplace Advisor provides some general advice to help structure the organization’s program. Since every organization is different and has unique issues, the policy and program your design should match your workforce and the needs of your organization.
The organization’s philosophy concerning alcohol and other drug problems sets the tone for the policy and defines the drug-free workplace program components. Some organizations focus on detection, apprehension and discharge and apply a strong law enforcement model that treats employees who use drugs as criminals. Other organizations focus on performance and emphasize deterrence and assistance, because they view alcohol and drug use as causing impairment of otherwise capable employees. The most effective drug-free workplace programs strike a balance between these two philosophies. They send a strong clear message and, at the same time, encourage employees to seek assistance if they are struggling with alcohol and other drug problems.
Your drug-free workplace program should:
The organization’s drug-free workplace policy, which serves as the foundation for its program, should accomplish two things:
The organization should also pay close attention to the following legally sensitive areas:
The policy should lay the groundwork for the organization’s program and should answer the following questions, which the Program Builder can lead you through:
(Also should examine the policies surrounding the organization’s sponsorship of any activities that involve alcohol and establish clear guidelines. Some organizations require that the serving or consuming of alcoholic beverages at organization-sponsored events, whether on or off the premises, have prior formal management approval.)