Last updated: October 25, 2021
Employers recognizing the importance of safety in the workplace go to great lengths—regular inspections, conscientious maintenance, frequent safety meetings, and investing in top-notch equipment. Those are all tried-and-true options, but there is one proven measure you won’t want to miss if you’re trying to improve safety. Put a drug testing plan in place.
Protecting Atlanta’s workforce
Like many large American cities, Atlanta suffers the risks and ravages of drug abuse. Synthetic marijuana is a steadily growing problem in the area. Molly can be found in clubs in the heart of the city and in the suburbs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of 25 to 34 year-old Atlantans seeking public treatment for cocaine abuse is greater than ever before. Methamphetamine abuse is at its highest level since 2006, and alcohol abuse was responsible for more than half of all treatment admissions. Prescription drug abuse may be lower than many of the other largest American cities, but only relatively speaking. It’s still a growing danger—nationwide and including Atlanta.
These trends appear among the population most likely to make up the average workforce. The impact these substance abusers can have on co-workers and in the workplace can be catastrophic.
Investing in the newest, safest equipment, training employees on the proper way to use it and how to react in case of emergency are, of course, critical to worker safety. What happens if the worker in question is too impaired to efficiently operate the equipment or put that training into play?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, substance abusers account for 20 percent of on-the-job deaths. Up to 65 percent of on-the-job accidents can be linked to substance abuse, and substance abusers are 5 times more likely to injure a co-worker. The most recent data from Atlanta shows that at least 20% of employees involved in workplace accidents tested positive for drugs. If buying a “widget” meant making your workplace 20% safer, what employer wouldn’t have one in their workplace. The “widget” is a drug testing program.
Those percentages are hardly surprising, given the well-documented effects of drugs and alcohol. It impairs judgment, slows reaction time, increases carelessness and decreases attention to detail, negatively affects decision-making and alertness and ruins the ability to concentrate. Drugs have no place in the workplace, but those effects don’t just happen when the drug is used on the premises. Hangovers and drug withdrawal symptoms are only two of the ways employee performance can compromised by off-site use.
A fundamental safety measure
In the end, workplace safety is determined largely by the employees—whether in an office setting or an assembly line—and drug testing is a fundamental tool for employers. It can and should be used to ensure workers are mentally and physically able to follow safety protocol, function responsibly, and respond quickly and effectively to dangerous situations.
As evidence of this, consider the fact that The Department of Labor and OSHA both recommend employers add drug testing to their safety toolboxes, going so far as to identify drug testing as a private employer’s legal right. Many states—Georgia included—consider drug testing such an important component of employee safety, they offer workman’s compensation insurance premium discounts to employers with established testing programs.
Statistics bear out testing’s positive impact on worker safety. Companies instituting drug-testing programs have seen as much as a 50 percent reduction in workplace accidents within two years. The Southern Pacific Railroad’s accident rate plummeted from 2,234 incidents the year before testing started to just 322 in the first half of the program’s fourth year.
There are, of course, other advantages to drug testing—reduced absenteeism, lower healthcare costs, fewer workman’s compensation claims, less legal liability due to accidents or defective products/services resulting from substance abuse. Productivity at a drug-free workplace tends to be as much as 30 percent higher.
But radically enhanced workplace safety has been and will always be one of the primary benefits of drug testing. A drug-free workplace is one where accidents and employee fatalities are dramatically reduced, where employee morale is bolstered, because workers understand and appreciate the fact that every possible step will be taken to ensure their on-the-job health and wellbeing.