Dealing with workers’ substance abuse

From the video "A Deadly Silence: Substance Abuse and Accidents"

I asked a former construction supervisor what he did when workers showed up drunk, hungover, or on drugs.

“As a lead hand, I used to send workers home in the morning if I thought they were still impaired, or smelled too fresh. I would just tell them: ‘I think maybe it was a mistake to come in today, you should have phoned in sick, and I am sending you home,'” he said.

“I wouldn’t report alcohol or drug problems because that would lead to a drug test, and then an indefinite suspension until a doctor cleared them to return to work. It was discreet, efficient. No blaming. Of course, this happened to some more than others, and they were almost always the first laid off when the crew was downsized at the end of the job.”

But discreetly sending someone home really isn’t enough, even though the supervisor felt he was acting with compassion and perhaps adhering to the “don’t rat people out” code. As he said, it happened to some more than others – and there’s a good chance the repeat offenders will create a serious safety hazard before anyone notices their state of mind.

Online course for supervisors

A supervisor in his postion would benefit from this online course for employers Supervising the Drug-free Workplace – from the BC Council on Substance Abuse.

This “practical guide” offers employers an opportunity “to increase their awareness and understanding of substance abuse; help them identify performance problems caused by substance abuse; learn how to discuss problems with employees; and most important, teach supervisors/leaders how to gain an employee’s commitment to correct the problem,” reads the course info sheet.

It takes four hours in total – delivered in two sessions, two hours each, scheduled at specific times. In the meantime, check out A Deadly Silence: Substance Abuse and Accidents – a video that tells the story of four workers whose personal and work lives were affected.

The video – sponsored in 2007 by MacMillan Bloedel, IWA Canada, and WorkSafeBC – discusses the issue of “ratting people out” and the fact that many adhere to a code of silence when their coworkers come to work in an altered state. Some don’t want to risk the job of someone who’s supporting a family – but the video’s main message is that people who abuse substances at work need help – and everyone around them needs to be protected from their unsafe work practices.


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