Dealing with substance abuse in the workplace

Photo credit: Alex E Proimos on Flickr

Photo credit: Alex E Proimos on Flickr

A construction worker at the cafe told me he faced an “ethical decision” recently. His coworker – from a temp agency – fell down drunk when he arrived in the morning.

He knew it was unsafe for someone to be working drunk on a construction site, but he felt some hesitation to report it because “the guy really needed the money.”

“I didn’t want to work with him,” said the worker. “So I told the lead hand I wasn’t working with him.”

The lead hand told the Construction Safety Officer, who sent him home, and, after that, the worker wasn’t hired on again as a temp. He didn’t have a steady job with an employer who offers support for people with addictions, and we can only wonder what happened to him.

Work Drug Free BC

It’s hard to bring up the topic of substance abuse at work – as experienced by the worker I spoke with. Luckily the CSO dealt with the situation; some supervisors and coworkers might not know what to do.

Helping supervisors deal with workers’ substance abuse is the goal of the Work Drug Free BC education program, run by the BC Council on Substance Abuse.

“Often people avoid dealing with concerns of substance abuse because they are uncomfortable or uncertain of how to approach and handle the situation,” reads the Work Drug Free BC website. “Taking responsibility for safety – for ourselves, our co-workers, our employees, and for the public, requires leadership and honest and open assessment of where we are today. This is a very human issue.”

One official aim is “To provide help where help is needed, not to moralize about substance use.” I like that way of looking at the issue. Help – not judgement – is how to bring workers back to health and into the workplace, where their skills and efforts are needed.

The Work Drug Free BC 2014 conference will be held October 7-9 in Kelowna, BC. I wrote about the 2013 conference, which was held in Prince George, BC. Guest speakers talked about how people become dependent on substances or misuse them – “be they legal or illicit, over the counter and prescription medications, or behaviours such as gambling and gaming.”

Another resource from the BC Council on Substance Abuse is the online course Supervising the Drug-free Workplace – with upcoming sessions in May and June. It covers questions like “How can supervisors discuss problems with employees and gain their commitment to change?” and “How can supervisors identify performance problems caused by substance abuse?” Email for more information.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *