Drug Use Increasing in the Manufacturing Workforce. How Can Employers Keep Their Workplace Safe?
Over the last few decades, workplace drug-testing policies have evolved to serve a dual purpose of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of both employees and the general public. This is especially critical in certain industries, such as manufacturing, where an impaired employee creates substantial public health and safety risk.
Studies suggest that substance abuse – which includes drugs and alcohol – costs the United States an estimated $276 billion a year, with much of the cost resulting from lost work productivity and increased healthcare spending. The human cost of substance abuse is much higher, especially when coupled with safety-sensitive jobs that present a risk to public safety.
As private companies seek substance-free workplaces, Quest Diagnostics has provided insights into trends in workforce drug use, based on positivity results for de-identified laboratory testing performed by the company for a range of illicit, legal, and prescription drugs.
Quest Diagnostics recently released its first-ever analysis of industry-specific data of workforce drug tests and the results showed alarming findings overall and in manufacturing. Overall, between 2015 and 2017, workforce positivity increased by double digits in 5 of 16 industry sectors. Marijuana also had the highest drug positivity rate across all of the 16 major U.S. industry sectors tested. In manufacturing, both marijuana and methamphetamine positivity increased year-over-year, by more than 23 and 27%, respectively, between 2015 and 2017.
This analysis indicates that employers face a significant business risk from workforce drug use. Drug misuse in the workforce is associated with absenteeism, increased costs, decreased productivity, and on-the-job injuries and fatalities. Employees in a manufacturing setting who operate machinery, transport goods, use hazardous materials, oversee plant operations and safety, and regularly come into contact with other employees or customers, post heightened risks for the company and its workers.
So, what can manufacturing executives do to help protect their employees, their workplaces, and their companies?
To start, employers need to be aware that workforce drug misuse takes many forms. Perhaps it is not surprising that rates of marijuana positivity are increasing, but under federal law, it is still considered an illegal substance, and employers are within their rights to ban it under workplace policies.
Additionally, while increases in positivity for illicit substances such as cocaine and methamphetamine are deeply concerning, prescription drug misuse is also a concern, especially in industries like manufacturing where safety is of paramount importance. Employers shouldn’t assume that just because a drug is prescribed, that it is being used as prescribed. They need to be aware of the dangers prescription drug misuse may pose, and they should address it within a comprehensive drug-free workplace policy. Prescription opiates are especially concerning for these safety-sensitive positions, because it may lead to an unsafe work environment. Employers should inform their medical review officer of their policies regarding prescription drug use to guide the MRO in the review of positive lab results and whether a potential safety concern should be reported to the employer.
Another way to maintain a safe workplace is a drug testing policy. Consider supplementing your company’s substance abuse policies with a comprehensive approach to drug testing. While many companies now utilize pre-employment testing, post-incident testing for employees also sends a message that there are consequences for violating the rules.
Drug testing can be a valuable tool for some employers to create professional, safe workplaces, especially when coupled with education, prevention, and referral and treatment programs. As employers consider strategies to protect their workplaces, they should also consider hazards that employees who use drugs present to their co-workers, customers, and the general public.