Substance Abuse and Worksite Wellness

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Employers Recognize Key Role in Substance Use and Wellness

By: Jeffrey Meyers, Certified Prevention Specialist

The phrase “worksite wellness” is becoming better known as employers strive to keep their worksites healthy and safe in an effort to increase productivity, raise employee wellbeing, and even lower health insurance costs. While this is most commonly associated with activities relating to exercise, healthy eating and stress reduction, one aspect that is increasingly getting attention of many employers is the key role that substance use prevention plays in promoting a safe and vibrant workplace.

For  many employers, tobacco remains a top concern, and for good reason. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found, for example, that cigarette smoking as well as secondhand smoke cost $92 billion each year in lost productivity. This can be seen in a number of ways. Tobacco users average more sick days per year than non-users, experience more hospital visits than their non-using counterparts, and average longer stays once hospitalized. Once more, a nationwide study undertaken by the American Productivity Audit found tobacco use was a greater factor in determining a worker’s lost productivity time than alcohol consumption, age, or family emergencies. Add to this the much higher insurance rates tobacco users face, along with the increased maintence costs employers experience when their employees use tobacco, and it becomes clear why more and more employers are looking for ways to address this issue.

Tobacco, however, is certainly not alone when it comes to substances that may pose issues for employers. Alcohol use, illicit drug use, and prescription drug abuse all represent very real safety concerns for employers and their employees. Abuse of any substance can create both physical and cognitive impairment leading to a heightened risk of accidents, legal challenges, decreased efficiency, increased turnover, and loss of employee morale. What’s especially challenging is that substance abuse occurring even outside the worksite can still have numerous liability and safety implications when an employee comes to work impaired. Employers thus must not only take precautions on controlling what is in the worksite, but also understand the physical and behavioral indications of someone that is struggling with a substance issue.

Though it may seem daunting at first, there are a number of ways employers can be proactive with its workforce and an increasing number of employers are taking the initiative. Where do employers start? First and foremost, education is paramount. Providing management with appropriate training on recognizing signs and symptoms is a crucial first step to safeguarding your workforce. Secondly, employers should examine what policies are in place that addresses substance use, making sure policies are comprehensive. Many employers, for example, think they’re tobacco free when they’re only smoke free, leaving other tobacco and nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, unaddressed. Finally, while training and policies are important, what’s most important is offering the appropriate assistance to employees in need. Many employers provide smoking cessation classes, host health fairs, and refer their employees to treatment services when needed.

As one of the leading substance abuse agencies in Eastern Iowa, the Area Substance Abuse Council offers free assistance to employers wanting to ensure a safe, healthy, and drug-free environment. Interested persons are encouraged to contact ASAC’s Prevention office by calling (319) 390-1884 or by e-mail .