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Fighting substance abuse on the job.

Substance abuse can create havoc on the job. Federal regulations now mandate a drug-free workplace, and new regulations require drug policies for all businesses in the transportation industry.

Drug and alcohol abuse has been called Alaska's greatest health problem. A 1994 report estimates the cost of providing state government services attributable to substance abuse at $300 million annually. The report also estimates that the economic impact of substance abuse on the private sector and individuals equals or exceeds state government expenditures, even excluding costs such as increased insurance rates for which there are no estimates.

Everybody suffers when drugs and alcohol are abused on the job. Accidents multiply. Drug users have nearly four times the risk of a fall, fire, vehicle accident and other injuries.

Performance drops as motivation and cooperation plunge and absenteeism and unpredictability soar. Lowered production (and losses from theft) may mean less money for raises and benefits for all employees. Morale declines as short tempers, poor communication and low-quality work lead to resentment and frustration in the workforce.

Joe Federici, clinical manager for Human Affairs Alaska, a subsidiary of Aetna Health Plans, says substance abuse crosses all boundaries of society.

Federici says Alaska ranks fourth among the states in substance abuse, and some of the contributing factors to this problem are particularly prevalent in the state's working environment. These factors include isolation, lack of peer group support, a history of family substance abuse, winter-time Seasonal Affective Disorder, and economic or personal stress.

B.W. Mac Armstrong, prevention and training adviser for Alaska's Department of Health and Social Services Office of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, says abused substances need not be illegal to be dangerous. "I get a lot more complaints about marijuana than alcohol," he says. "People tend to exaggerate the dangers of illegal drugs and discount the dangers of legal drugs," such as alcohol.

Eric Olsen, manager of marine operations for Kenai Fjords Tours of Seward, says the best way to keep drugs out of the workplace is to create an atmosphere of teamwork.

Federal Regulations

In response to this nationwide problem, the federal government has passed laws to give employers both an incentive and the tools to battle alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace.

Drug-Free Workplace Act

The first of these laws, the 1988 Drug-Free Workplace Act, requires federal contractors (with contracts of $25,000 or more) and grantees to achieve and maintain a "drug-free workplace." Specifically, the act requires employers covered to certify they are providing a drug-free workplace by:

* Publishing a statement notifying employees that the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensation, possession or use of a controlled substance is prohibited in the workplace, and specifying the actions that will be taken if the prohibition is violated.

* Establishing a drug-free awareness program to inform employees about: The dangers of workplace drug abuse; the employer's drug-free workplace policy; any available drug counseling, rehabilitation, and employee assistance programs; and the penalties applicable to employees for drug abuse violations.

Tom Daniel, an employment law attorney for Perkins Coie in Anchorage, says there have only been two Alaska court decisions concerning drug testing in the workplace, and exactly what an employer can do is still not completely resolved. Because the law is unclear, experts advise seeing an attorney before requiring drug testing.

For one thing, both federal and Alaska law protect public employees from random drug testing. "For just your run-of-the-mill office employees, a random drug test would probably be unconstitutional," Daniel says.

He says employers can conduct pre-employment screenings by telling the applicant that they will be hired for the job contingent on passing a drug test.

Federici says that substance abuse is a tough problem, but in his experience, "counseling works." He supports workplace drug testing, pointing out that most people don't volunteer for treatment, coming in only after a spouse or employer detect a problem. "They usually come in only because they're about to lose something important to them."

Transportation Testing Act

In 1996, an even stronger law, the Omnibus Transportation Employee Test Act, became effective for all employers regulated by one or more of five U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) agencies (Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Highway Administration, Research and Special Programs Administration, Federal Transit Administration and Federal Railroad Administration).

The Transportation Act requires alcohol and drug testing for covered employees in trucking, airlines, railroads, mass transit and pipelines. Workers covered include truck and bus drivers and other commercial drivers; pilots, flight crews and air traffic controllers; railroad engineers, dispatchers and signal service workers; mass transit and aviation maintenance workers; and pipeline employees.

Under the rules, employees are prohibited from performing safety-sensitive duties while using alcohol; from four to eight hours after using alcohol depending on the job; and with a prohibited alcohol concentration, which is .04 percent blood alcohol content or more. Workers can also be removed from safety-sensitive duties if alcohol concentration is more than .02 but less than .04.

Employees must take a breath test if required. Refusing to take a test has the same consequences as breaking any of the other rules.

Employees must avoid using alcohol for eight hours after an accident or until they are tested. Covered employees involved in an accident may not use alcohol until their employer has determined that alcohol was not a factor.

The use of illegal drugs is absolutely prohibited either on or off duty.

Under the Transportation Act, the employer must provide information about the company's alcohol and drug use policy, including the effects of alcohol and other drug use; signs and symptoms of alcohol use; who to contact for help, if needed; and prohibited behavior and the consequences of prohibited behavior.

The employer must also train supervisors of safety-sensitive employees to learn the signs of alcohol use. Employers are required to refer employees who break the substance abuse rules to professionals for evaluation. Employees need to know where to go for counseling and treatment.

Under the act, testing is required. Depending on the job, alcohol and drug tests may be performed:

* Before employment as part of the hiring process. Tests may also be performed before an employee is transferred to a safety-sensitive job.

* After an accident to make sure alcohol or other drug use wasn't a factor in the accident.

* For reasonable suspicion, if a trained supervisor notes behavior or appearance that may indicate o substance abuse.

* Random testing may be used for any covered employee just before, during or after performing safety-sensitive duties.

* Testing is also required before a worker can return to duty after breaking alcohol and drug rules. Unannounced follow-up tests may be required.

Kenai Fjord Tours' Olsen thinks the Coast Guard mandates that his industry has to follow are a good idea. "In the tourism and passenger business, it gives the customers more confidence."

Human Affairs' Federici notes that although the employer has responsibilities, ultimately the employee must take responsibility for his or her actions. "At what point does the employer take responsibility for the employee's actions? At no point. It's throwing responsibility in the wrong direction."

RELATED ARTICLE: Information on Substance Abuse

1-800-241-9746 Action/Pride Drug Information Line

1-800-527-9996 Al-Anon

1-800-527-5344 American Council on Alcoholism Helpline

1-800-NCA-CALL National Council on Alcoholism

1-800-COCAINE National Cocaine Hotline

1-800-662-HELP National Institute on Drug Abuse Hotline

1-800-843-4971 NIDA Workplace Helpline

(907) 561-4213 Alaska Department of Health & Social Services, Office of Alcoholism & Drug Abuse

RELATED ARTICLE: Costs of Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace

According to the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, substance abuse exacts a high toll on business in lost productivity, accidents and lost time.

* 11.9 percent of the American workforce reports heavy drinking, defined as having five or more drinks per occasion on five or more days in the past 30 days.

* Up to 40 percent of industrial fatalities and 47 percent of industrial injuries can be linked to alcohol consumption and alcoholism.

* 75 percent of workers paid on an hourly basis at one manufacturing plant report that it was easy for them to drink at their work stations.

* 70 percent of all current adult illegal drug users are employed.

* 63 percent of firms responding to a 1991 survey were engaged in some sort of drug testing, a 200 percent increase since 1987.

* Absenteeism among alcoholics or problem drinkers is 3.8 to 8.3 times greater than normal and up to 16 times greater for employees who abuse drugs. Drug-using employees use three times as many sick benefits as other workers. They are five times more likely to file a workers' compensation claim.

* Non-alcoholic members of alcoholics' families use 10 times as much sick leave as members of families in which alcoholism is not present.

* 43 percent of CEOs responding to one survey estimated that use of alcohol and other drugs cost them 1 percent to 10 percent of payroll.

RELATED ARTICLE: Establishing Drug Testing Procedures in Your Company

A drug testing policy should address the following issues:

* Need for the policy.

* Need for compliance with state and federal discrimination laws.

* Circumstances in which testing is required.

* Consequences of refusing to take required drug tests.

* Company procedures for fair and dignified testing.

* Confidentiality of test results and treatment.

* Procedures for confirmation of positive tests.

* Due process procedures for employees who test positive.

* Procedures for referral to the company's Employee Assistance Program, if available.

* Policy of rehabilitation opportunities for employees who test positive.

* Responsibility of employees to seek treatment.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related articles on the costs of drug and alcohol abuse and company procedures for drug testing
Author:Gerhart, Clifford
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Aug 1, 1996
Words:1565
Previous Article:Facing a sea of uncertainty.
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