The cost of drug use and proactive ways to reduce impacts

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Chris Della Mora, P. Eng
Risk Consultant, HUB International

In the age of analytics there is no excuse for being reactive to safety. One emerging (and disturbing) trend is the increase usage in illicit drugs, and the impact it is having on the construction industry. A recent study by CNA Insurance found that 15.1 per cent of construction workers are using drugs – second only to the food industry.

There are several issues that impact the construction industry more than others. One of these is the physical wear and tear that the laborious work takes on the body. This can lead to chronic pain which is often remedied by prescribed opioid usage.

When dealing with legal (prescribed) drug usage – so an employee can return to work pain free – potential issues may arise from the worker operating heavy equipment while under the influence of medication. Simply because it is a prescribed medication, it does not mean that there won’t be some potential impairment from the usage. A longer term effect can be dependence on the drug, which will lead to increased costs in insurance premiums as the employee will continue taking medication longer than medically necessary.

Illicit use can cause other issues for your company. Along with the potential for impairment while on the job, there is also an associated increase in absenteeism and employee turnover with drug use, as well as a decrease in productivity. These are direct costs that affect the bottom line of your business.

So how do you stay ahead of the problem and deal with this issue proactively? Employers have the duty to address issues related to drug and alcohol dependency and abuse. Your insurance broker is a great resource to turn to for guidance and hands-on help. Using data gathered from different industries, geographic locations, demographics, etc., your broker can work with you to measure internal data, analyze trends, and assist in implementing programs to address potential issues before serious issues arise.

This assistance can come from various avenues and can be completely tailored to an individual company’s needs. Health and safety policies can be reviewed to check for compliance with the latest standards. Employee Assistance Programs can be implemented to confidentially assist employees who are dealing with substance abuse, or are having a difficult time in their lives and may be looking for an outlet. Industrial hygienists can be used to assess repetitive jobs to address ways to minimize damaging impacts on the human body and try to prevent the chronic injuries before they arise. And on top of all that, a proper return to work program should be included to ensure a proper transition back to the workplace with minimal disruption to the client and employee.

The next wave of drug use on the job site is just around the corner with the legalization of marijuana expected in Canada in late October. There are still more questions than answers on the affects this will have on businesses, but one thing is certain, having a proactive approach to other drug use will provide an easier transition into this uncertain time.

Chris Della Mora is a risk consultant at HUB International.