Drug and Alcohol Program Review

Posted: Mar. 24, 2020 • By Kevin Kohler

Drug and Alcohol Program Review

Our drug and alcohol program hasn’t changed 

A drug and alcohol program consists of a policy statement from senior management stating the goals and objectives of the program, and the procedures established to support the policy.

Drug and alcohol programs should be reviewed:

  • On a regular basis to ensure their effectiveness
  • When conditions or requirements change
  • When laws, standards or industry best practices change
  • When there has been an incident related to the drug and alcohol program.

There have been a number of recent instances where drug and alcohol programs have been impacted by:

  • Human rights legislation 
  • Safety initiatives related to impairment and being fit to work 
  • Prescription drug use and misuse trends in society
  • Legalization of cannabis (marijuana) for medicinal purposes 
  • Legalization of cannabis (marijuana) for recreational purposes
  • Changes in legislation and case law related to drug and alcohol testing

This evolving landscape underscores the importance of making sure that our drug and alcohol program is up to date and effective.

Why the concern about drugs and alcohol?

The misuse of drugs and alcohol exacts a huge toll in our society, and the workplace is not exempt.  The Conference Board of Canada reports that:

  • One in 25 Canadians aged 15 or over meet the criteria for a substance use disorder
  • The cost of lost productivity due to illicit drug use in Canada is $11.8 billion annually

In the U.S., the National Safety Council reports studies that show prescription drug misuse was responsible for a 17% reduction in workplace productivity.

Impairment caused by substance abuse at work is a serious concern in safety sensitive positions.  WorkSafeBC cites these physical and behavioural changes from substance use that affects a person’s ability to work safely:

  • Impaired judgment, perception, and decision making
  • Decreased motor co-ordination, reaction time, and sensory perception
  • Psychological or stress-related effects, such as mood swings or personality changes

Our program mainly consists of rules and prohibitions

It’s not that simple to have an effective program.  Drug and alcohol abuse is a complex problem because:

  • It involves individual behaviours and psychological health
  • It requires training to recognize symptoms and intervene in a manner that respects individual rights 
  • It requires education to ensure that employees and employers work together

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction published a 2018 study titled “A Review of Substance Use Policies in Canada”.  The study reviewed substance use policies in the workplace to identify common elements, lessons learned and the policy areas requiring more attention.  Some key findings include:

  • Well developed policies send an important message to the organization
  • Not having a policy can increase workplace risks

With respect to reviewing the effectiveness of drug and alcohol programs, the study had this to say:

Reviewing and evaluating policies is important to ensure that they are effective and up to date. Ineffective policies can put both employees and employers at risk. Additionally, organizations should develop appropriate and measurable indicators that capture the impact of their policy. 

Best practices and employer responsibilities

Controlling the hazards of substance abuse and substance impairment is an important employer responsibility and is required under the general duty to protect employees and all other persons from harm.  Because of the risks posed by substance abuse, an effective drug and alcohol program is a necessary component of all health and safety systems.  To remain effective in a changing environment, this program must be reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis and when conditions change. All employees must receive training on the hazards of substance abuse in the workplace and how to control them.

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