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Sobering up for success.

CRUISE MISSILES, LASER-GUIDED smart bombs, and the many other awe-inspiring weapons showcased during the Persian Gulf War clearly illustrate a United States on the cutting edge of technological advancement, well positioned to excel against foreign business competition. However, we are all aware - and take pride in knowing - it was the commitment and skill of the military personnel stationed in the Persian Gulf that led to an expeditious end to the war.

It is this same commitment, skill, and attention to detail exhibited by America's work force - not the equipment and resources at its disposal - that will position American business to succeed in increasingly competitive world markets. Unfortunately, a damaging force is at work that threatens the growth of our economy and individual businesses.

The costs of alcohol abuse in the workplace are enourmous. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that alcohol and other drug abuse on the job costs and United States $102 billion each year through increased insurance rates, decreased productivity, and increased prices for goods and services.

Statistics from a Department of Labor report reflect the costly effects of workplace alcohol abuse:

* Employees who abuse alcohol and other drugs claim three times as many sickness benefits and five times as many workers' compensation claims.

* Workers who abuse alcohol are absent from the job 16 times more often than other employees.

Absenteeism, sick leave, overtime pay, tardiness, and insurance and workers' compensation claims are real, quantitative costs to American companies caused by alcohol abuse in the workplace. Employees impaired by alcohol also introduce safety and health risks to the work environment. The Employee Assistance Society of America reports that as many as 40 percent of industrial fatalities and 47 percent of industrial injuries can be linked to alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

While not as visible, other effects of workplace alcohol abuse create negative work environments and lead to inefficient operations. For example, how much time is spent by supervisors dealing with employees in need of treatment? What effect has a tarnished corporate image had on the bottom line? What does it cost to train new employees? How is employee morale affected?

While the answers to these questions are hard to determine and vary depending on the degree of the problem, they do represent additional real costs of workplace alcohol abuse.

With national attention focused on the war against cocaine, heroin, and other illegal substances, it is important that alcohol - the most widely abused drug in the United States - not become the forgotten drug of abuse. Preserving the quality of America's work force may depend on it.

In the early '70s, more efficient, cost-effective drug-testing technologies arrived in the marketplace, making drug testing more practical for private industry. This, coupled with recent federal legislation requiring federal government contractors to meet guidelines guaranteeing a drug-free workplace, has resulted in an increasing number of American companies implementing drug screening programs.

Companies implement programs for several reasons, all of which benefit the nation's economy: to maintain a safe and healthy work environment, to remain productive, and to identify treatment needs of employees. Considering the widespread abuse of alcohol, it is vital that companies include an alcohol test in their drug screening panel.

MY COMPANY, A NATIONAL, TEMPO-rary-help service called Express Services, experienced firsthand the benefits of a comprehensive drug screening program. In November 1990, the company decided to screen job candidates for alcohol and drugs.

From entry-level labor jobs to executive recruitment services, the company places employees in a wide range of positions in the private sector. Because the organization's impact is far-reaching, touching virtually all industries, it decided to implement an on-site drug screening program to ensure it placed only qualified, drug-free employees.

The company has seen evidence of the program's effectiveness in just a few months. Following are some results at its Washington state office:

* Since screening began, the office has seen a 375 percent reduction in the number of workers' compensation claims.

* When testing began, the company had a 7 percent positive test result rate. Today, less than 2 percent of the company's prospective employees test positive.

* Prior to drug screening, the "no-call, no-show" rate at this particular office was between five and 10 per week. Since October, absenteeism has diminished to less than one no-show per week.

* The replacement rate has also been reduced from 25 percent to almost zero since screening started. Individuals placed in a job stay with the job.

On January 1, the office received a 19 percent reduction in workers' compensation costs from the state. While many factors contributed to this reduction, health and safety improvements in the workplace played a significant role.

The company has seen the benefits of a comprehensive drug screening program. The company is placing safer and more productive individuals in jobs. However, it is the collective efforts of the business community to remove alcohol and drugs from the work force that will enable our country to remain competitive with foreign businesses.

One in every 10 individuals has a problem with alcohol. The Department of Labor reports that 70 percent of all alcohol and drug abusers are employed. By recognizing the far-reaching effects of alcohol and drug abuse, maintaining safer, healthier work environments, and identifying employees who need help, companies can contribute to the overall. strength of our most valuable business resource - the American work force.

William H. Stoller is executive vice president of Express Services, a temporary and permanent personnel agency in Oklahoma City.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Seminar Issue; costly effects of workplace alcohol abuse
Author:Stoller, William H.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:Panes that pay.
Next Article:On the edge: assessing the violent employee.

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