Employees and employers both share the same views when it comes to operating in a drug-free environment: keep drug abuse out to keep employees safe. Sadly, numbers have been growing in the world of drug abuse, and finding employees who are drug-free has become a difficult task. According to a study conducted by the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, emotional strain and stress caused by bioterrorism and September 11th greatly contributed to the growing number of Americans receiving or searching for alcohol and drug abuse treatment (which increased 10 to 12 percent nationwide.)

To make matters worse, numbers of workplace drug abuse have grown as well. Roughly 75 percent of employed individuals age 18 and up are illicit drug users. This means there are at least 10 million individuals using drugs and functioning in the workplace.

The study also discovered (based on a 250-workday period) that there were at least 42,000 individuals in the United States who were getting high while on the job. A survey of individuals calling the 800-COCAINE hotline discovered that at least 75 percent of callers were using drugs at work. There was even a point in time when the government claimed that at least 25 percent of all workers would fail a drug test if tested today.

Employee Drug Abuse Knowledge

Employees are well aware that drug use in the workplace can lead to serious problems, whether it be workplace safety, job performance or job-related activity. In 1996, the Hazelden Foundation conducted a survey on workers who had shown up for work stoned or drunk. Shockingly, they discovered that almost 61 percent of employees had been impaired at their jobs. In a similar study in Ohio, at least 62 percent of employees knew a coworker who had a substance problem that had often interfered with their performance at work.

In addition to the surveys listed above, fourteen Gallup polls were conducted about employee attitudes towards substance abuse and the workplace. A majority of employees stated that substance abuse either “somewhat” or “greatly” had an effect on workplace-related activity. As far as the negative effects of substance abuse in the workplace, employees stated that it affects:

  • Attendance (64 percent)
  • Productivity (63 percent)
  • Morale (63 percent)
  • Health care costs (59 percent)
  • Safety (57 percent)

Now it should be noted that substance abuse is often tested in circumstances such as post-rehabilitation, return to duty, random testing, post-accident and pre-employment. The most commonly identified drug is marijuana, which is oftentimes the case in such studies. Another drug commonly found in such studies is cocaine (which falls at roughly 16 percent.)

However, the surge of heroin use in the U.S. has led to a 9.4 positive rate of opiates in drug testing. Other common drugs found in such screenings have been PCP at .34 percent, methadone at .41 percent, propoxyphene at 1.6 percent, barbiturates at 3 percent, benzodiazepines at 3.9 percent, and amphetamines at 4.9 percent.

Employee Voices

Here’s some good news. In another Gallup survey, a staggering 95 percent of employees favor drug testing in workplaces that are safety sensitive. In addition to this, several other industries feel the same way:

  • 69 percent of office workers favor drug testing
  • 92 percent of health care workers favor drug testing
  • 81 percent of factory workers favor drug testing
  • 78 percent of all workers favor drug testing in all occupations

So given these numbers, it’s easy to understand that employees demand a safe workplace environment. Substance abuse makes even the most mundane tasks difficult, which makes occupations considerably more dangerous. Drugs and alcohol are responsible for at least one in six fatalities on the job. According to the National Safety Council, 80 percent of individuals injured in workplace-related accidents were not abusing drugs, but many were injured by employees who were under the influence.

This brings the question: Would drug testing help reduce accidents in the workplace? A great number of workplace studies have been conducted to measure accident rates before and after drug tests were regularly implemented for various safety reasons. The Southern Pacific Railroad studies held some of the most prominent results. After they implemented regular drug testing practices, their accidents dropped from 2,234 in the year prior to 322 into the fourth year of regular drug testing. If analyzed from an annual perspective, Southern Pacific Railroad maintained a 71.2 percent decrease in accidents. Their study shows that drug testing can not only have a major positive impact on companies regardless of their size, but also that increased safety precautions can create a healthier workplace environment.

So in addition to a safer workplace environment, a drug-free workplace helps business remain productive. In a drug-free workplace, employees can feel more confident that workers are performing their jobs competently and safely. Drug testing is a major factor in improved job performance overall. In addition to overall accident rates plummeting, behavioral problems, employee theft, tardiness and absenteeism decline as well. This, in turn, improves worker performance, attention to detail, attendance, morale and productivity.

Drug testing in the workplace has been a topical subject for many decades and many employers have taken action to keep their employees safe and focused on the tasks at hand. Between safety and the money that can be saved/made by a simple test, it’s likely that drug testing will remain the norm in the workplaces of tomorrow.