SUBSTANCE ABUSE IN WORKPLACE
How prevalent is drug abuse in the workplace?
While much attention is focused on prevention and intervention for South Africa's youth, the area of substance abuse in the workplace remains a relatively neglected issue. This is a short-sighted omission on the part of employers and industries; there is an urgent need for building awareness and knowledge to enable employers to recognise and deal with the problem and to provide stronger support for addicts.
Counsellors and treatment centres will testify that a significant portion of those seeking treatment are professionals in executive positions. Drug Free SA gets most of their calls for help from professionals on a Monday or Tuesday when they are experiencing withdrawal symptoms after a weekend of bingeing and they need help to get through the working week (SA National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence) shows that around 40% of persons who seek treatment for addiction are employed full time and that two thirds of addicts are adults.
How does this translate to what employers are experiencing in the workplace? If one considers that studies done showed that some 45% of South Africa's employees experiment with drugs and up to a third of them go on to abuse drugs during their careers, it indicates that as much as 15% of today's adults are addicted to alcohol or illegal and prescription drugs. The SA Association for Social Workers in Private Practice (SAASWIPP) estimates that 6-20% of the workforce is likely to be drug-dependant. Families of addicts who in your employ are also affected.
The consequences of substance abuse in the workplace are low productivity, absenteeism, failure to meet deadlines, poor performance and criminal activity such as theft or fraud, as well as disputes with managers or supervisors. SAASWIPP also estimates that 50% of workplace accidents are drug related and that an undetected drug abuser will cost the employer 25% of that person's wages. Furthermore, often by the time the problem has been identified, the user is likely to require treatment.
Certain sectors in the workforce tend to be more vulnerable. But no sector is exempt since substance abuse occurs across the board, particularly where employees are experiencing high levels of stress, isolation, long periods away from their families, or social pressure. Ready access to alcohol is also a contributing factor. SAASWIPP also reports that abuse of dagga is more prevalent amongst blue collar workers while high income earners choose cocaine, Kat, Tik or heroin, and alcohol is the drug of choice for 50% of all addicts.
Awareness of the problem is growing, albeit slowly. We recommend timely intervention in cases of substance abuse in the workplace, before a serious accident can occur. Our plan advocates a structured programme of intervention which includes a policy on dealing with substance abuse, employee awareness programmes, access to counselling and rehabilitation, training for supervisors, random testing for alcohol and other drugs and compulsory testing of previous offenders. South Africa's Labour Relations Act requires employers to investigate the cause of an employee's incapacity and offer appropriate treatment before resorting to dismissal. "In the case of certain kinds of incapacity, for example alcoholism or drug abuse, counselling and rehabilitation may be appropriate steps for an employee to consider", (Labour Relations Act 1995, Codes of Good Practice [Schedule 8]). The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993 makes employers responsible for the health, safety and welfare of their employees, which includes strategic interventions in the case of substance abuse. However, no amount of regulation can ensure that practical measures and professional intervention is available to both employers and employees.
The cost of intervention and treatment is a significant obstacle. Dr Charles Parry, who heads up research into substance abuse at the Medical Research Council, confirms that there is a critical lack of affordable or free treatment for addicts. Private rehab centres are expensive and usually only affordable for those who have a medical aid. It is thus often incumbent on the employer to bear the cost of treatment for employees who are willing to be rehabilitated - all the more reason why employers should strive for early detection and intervention.
It is clear that companies are both obliged to implement policies and procedures for the prevention of substance abuse and that they cannot afford to ignore the issue. The question then is how can companies find out what to do?
Drug Free SA has developed a range of affordable workshops on managing substance abuse in the workplace that can be taken to companies for the benefit of managers and employees. The workshop training includes identifying symptoms of substance abuse, tools for intervention, establishing employee assistance programmes and where to get help.
We can assist organisations, companies by providing a service of ongoing support of expert guidance and access to counselling and treatment for their employees, resulting in mutually beneficial relationships which can have a positive impact on communities as a whole. All you have to do is contact me on 0614996704 for a presentation at your place of employment.
Peter Kilian is the director of Drug Free SA.