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OSHA NOTES DRUG USE IN WORKPLACE

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Between 40 percent and 70 percent of people working in selected Utah industries are using drugs or alcohol on the job, thereby endangering themselves and fellow workers, according to two officials of the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division of the State Industrial Commission.

Doug McVey, OSHA administrator, and A. Neil Anderson, education consultation supervisor, said some industries are relatively drug free, but others have a major drug and alcohol problem.Anderson, who has contacted hundreds of businesses over the years while doing safety compliance inspections, said he started receiving comments from workers in the construction and trucking industries more than three years ago, complaining about fellow workers using drugs or alcohol on the job.

"They feared for their safety," said Anderson, with marijuana, cocaine and alcohol the big reasons for their concern.

In checking with other employees in other industries such as grocery stores, manufacturing and warehousing, Anderson discovered that drug and alcohol use on the job was also prevalent.

Having a job means the person has money to spend on alcohol and drugs, and using them on the job is a relatively safe place because police officers ordinarily don't enter the workplace under normal circumstances, Anderson said. The work place is also a relatively secure place to purchase drugs, he said.

State OSHA officials apparently became involved with drug and alcohol abuse in the work-place by accident. The Legislature passed the Drug and Alcohol Testing Act in 1987 but failed to name an agency to monitor the situation.

McVey said the responsibility more or less fell to his agency since it is charged with keeping the workplace safe, and drugs and alcohol are just as dangerous as an unsafe railing or a missing face guard on a grinder.

In recent months, some company officials have contacted Anderson about helping them establish a drug policy for their businesses. Using a successful program from one Utah company, Anderson put together a "fill-in-the-blank" program and has been passing it out to company officials upon request.

The program contains a drug policy, which says the company is concerned about the use of drugs and alcohol on the job because the company wants a healthy and productive work force and wants the quality of its products maintained.

It also notes that abuse of alcohol and drugs causes increased injuries on the job, more absenteeism, increased burden on health and benefit programs, increased theft, lower morale and productivity and a decline in the quality of the products produced.

Also contained in the suggested program are definitions of drugs, testing procedures, penalties, reinstatement and what happens when an employees refuses to take a test. It also contains sample forms for voluntary consent to drug testing.

Anderson said one of the difficulties he encounters is to have officials admit they have a drug- and alcohol-abuse problem in their company. Some top management people are the worst offenders and don't want a drug- and alcohol-abuse program in their company, McVey said.

Many companies have contacted OSHA about a drug and alcohol testing program, but many officials are more concerned about rehabilitation than they are in taking punitive action against some employees.

In January, McVey and State Industrial Commissioner Dixie Minson will ask the Legislature for money to hire several people to work on the drug and alcohol in the workplace program. Meanwhile, each time Anderson and other inspectors provide safety training for company employees, they will save a block of time to talk about drugs and alcohol.

They also will continue to speak to high school students about the problem.

Several years ago when Utah officials assumed control of the OSHA programs in Utah, the number of accidents declined dramatically until only 9 percent of the work force is injured annually. McVey believes that drugs and alcohol are the main reasons why the injury figure doesn't continue to decline.