Substance abuse covers a range of mind altering substances from illegal drugs for example, cannabis and cocaine to legal drugs such as alcohol and prescription drugs. It is defined as continued misuse that affects a person’s physical and mental health, social situations and responsibilities (Mental Health Foundation). This article will focus on the responsibilities related to employment and the cost to employers through loss of productivity in the workplace.
How much does substance misuse cost society?
The Government Alcohol Strategy 2012 estimates that alcohol related harm costs our country £21 billion every year!This is broken down as:
- NHS costs, at about £3.5 billion per year
- Alcohol-related crime, at £11 billion per year
- Lost productivity due to alcohol, at about £7.3 billion per year
In terms of drug abuse the figure is not much different costing £15 billion a year according to the National Treatment Agency and is broken down again with healthcare and crime costs. In addition to this, the overall figure also allows for the cost to families and communities.
Taking both figures into account, substance misuse as a whole works out to cost over £36 billion a year!
What is the cost to the employee and employer?
Substance misuse is everyone’s concern and in the context of the workplace, it can have a significant impact on the person’s health and relationships. It can be a serious concern for not only the worker but also for the business where they work and, sometimes, for their co-workers. It can also cost employers through reduced productivity, staff being absent from work and an increase in the risk of accidents.
What is the responsibility of the employer?
Employers have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to uphold the health, safety and welfare at work of your employees. There is also a requirement under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, to assess the risks to the health and safety of employees.
Employers could be breaking the law if they knowingly allow drug-related activities in their workplace and they fail to act. It is just as important to know the implications to both the employees and business of not tackling drug misuse, particularly where safety is involved. Employees are also responsible for taking reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by what they do at work (Health and Safety Executive).
What are the advantages of tackling substance misuse in the workplace?
Successfully tackling drug misuse can benefit both businesses and employees by:
- Reducing the cost of absenteeism or impaired productivity;
- Creating a more productive environment by offering support to those employees who declare a drug-related problem so therefore improving employee morale
- Reducing the risk of accidents caused by impaired judgement
- Enhancing the public perception of your organisation as a responsible employer
Devising a substance misuse policy
Organisations should adopt a substance misuse policy, in consultation with their staff and should aim to support and work with affected employees. Safety representatives appointed by recognised trade unions should also be consulted and if the employees are not covered by such representatives, then they should consult them either directly, or indirectly through elected representatives of employee safety, according to the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996. Getting the support of a workforce for any change in company policies and procedures is much easier if staff or their representatives are included in the process of doing so. Even if there is no evidence of current drug misuse, it is always good practice to have a policy that will enable employers to deal with any problems that may arise in the future.
Originally written for ROSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents)