Written by Amber Cicotte, CHMM, BBJ Group's EHS Regulatory Compliance Practice Lead
On June 25, the state of Illinois passed legislation to decriminalize marijuana. This makes Illinois the 11th state in the US to make this change, and it seems likely that more states will follow. It’s on the minds of employers and employees across the U.S., and everyone’s fired up.
Decriminalizing marijuana has many societal benefits, like reducing the prison population, and thus the financial burden to taxpayers, and allowing police to focus on more serious issues.
However, just like legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco, it poses an undeniable safety hazard in the workplace, particularly for manufacturing where interaction with heavy equipment is routine.
With this readjustment of social norms and legal regulation, it’s a good time to revisit the substance abuse policies and procedures at your facility to make sure workers are kept safe, particularly during this time of transition. Drug policy at work shouldn’t be an attempt to enforce morality amongst workers, but simply a measure to ensure that all who are in our care are able to do their work in a safe and healthy environment. Drug of choice, legal or not, doesn’t matter, but our workers and their choices do.
Let’s look at some stats to understand why substance use in the workforce matters:
- One study from the National Institute of Health (NIH), indicated that employees who tested positive for marijuana during pre-employment had 55% more industrial accidents, 85% more injuries, and 75% greater absenteeism than their peers who tested negative.
- According to the US Drug Test Centers, $25.5 billion dollars annually is spent due to lost productivity and absenteeism at work due to drug abuse. Another $25 billion is lost due to healthcare costs per year.
- Approximately 16% of emergency room patients injured at work have alcohol in their system.
- Smoking costs the United States billions of dollars each year. Total economic cost of smoking is more than $300 billion a year, including nearly $170 billion in direct medical care for adults. More than $156 billion is lost in productivity due to premature death and exposure to secondhand smoke.
So whether it’s the acute, immediate problem of an employee clocking in to operate dangerous equipment while under the influence, or the chronic effects of social substance use, the safety of our facilities is affected by the choices workers make in the time they’re away from the factory floor. What can be done to encourage workers to make good choices about health and safety all the time?
- Ensure everyone in the workplace understands that a substance-free workplace is safer, healthier, and more productive.
- Inform employees about available programs that support health & wellness in the workplace.
- Create a sense of shared responsibility for a healthy workplace and for the success of the supporting programs.
- Develop a process to continually review and update policies and strategies that support a substance-free workplace and the health & wellness of employees.
These steps may be easier said than done, but starting with appropriately designed health & safety programs and interactive training for your workers, you’ll soon have a safety culture that not only values safety on the job, but making safe choices away from work, as well.