In many cases, organisations approach alcohol and drug testing as a program primarily in place to “catch” violators. The testing program becomes a tool for punishment rather than a means of promoting workplace safety. Though workplace alcohol and drug testing programs can certainly identify workers using illicit substances or alcohol, focusing only on catching individual workers can ignore many factors that influence worker substance abuse. By concentrating on detecting violators, a prime opportunity is missed to promote a positive and healthy organisation wide environment.
In other words, instead of viewing the alcohol and drug testing program as punitive, it can become an integral component of a workplace health initiative. This approach promotes a drug and alcohol free workplace, while also helping employees understand that substance abuse is a lifestyle, and not just a workplace, issue. People do not have clear lines between their work and personal lives, meaning they overlap. While prohibiting drugs and alcohol in the workplace is important for workplace safety, it does not educate people on the harm that they cause themselves and others when using the substances.
One Link in the Healthy Living Campaign
An organisation wide improvement program benefits the business and the workers. Developing an alcohol and drug workplace policy should be one link in a campaign to educate and train workers in best practices for developing and maintaining healthy lifestyles. Instead of focusing only on the impact of drugs on the body or alcohol on the brain, an improvement program will address many lifestyle factors that impact workers. For example, some companies incorporate training on the dangers of alcohol and drug use in a program focused on healthy diets and exercise. People who are concerned with taking care of their bodies through diet and exercise are much less likely to use drugs and alcohol.
Focusing on harm minimisation rather than punishment is also more likely to garner compliance. Employee assistance programs (EAPS) and health promotion programs (HPPs) can include a number of components of which drug and alcohol abuse education is just one. For example, employers may:1
- Offer stress management workshops
- Provide employee access to counselling for substance abuse, family issues, stress etc.
- Provide safety training
- Hold supervisor-employee sessions to facilitate conversations about workplace concerns
- Conduct regular review of workplace factors that may create employee stress, i.e. schedules, production schedules, staffing etc
- Pay for employee memberships at a gym or fitness centre
- Train supervisors on alcohol and drug policy while also giving supervisors a role in the organisation wide health initiative
- Contract with an outside medical agency to provide occupational health services and health screening
By developing a companywide culture that promotes healthy lifestyles, the alcohol and drug program is not viewed as a way for the employer to catch and punish workers who violate company rules. Instead it is seen as a natural component of a healthy living program. Employers accrue a number of benefits from this approach. These benefits include increased productivity, fewer missed days of work, lower medical expenses, and improved workplace safety.
The Mediscreen (http://mediscreen.net.au) services include essential training for organisational managers responsible for the drug and alcohol testing program. Expert Mediscreen professionals work to meet testing needs by working within the organisational framework.
1. Lehman, J. B. (2001, March 2). Supervisor Tolerance-Responsiveness to Substance Abuse and Workplace Prevention Training: Use of a Cognitive Mapping Tool. Retrieved April 27, 2011, from Oxford Journals: http://her.oxfordjournals.org/content/17/1/27.full#sec-11