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Opioid Epidemic and the Workplace

For decades marijuana was considered the most prevalent gateway drug. Not that all marijuana users moved on to harder drugs; only that the vast majority of hard drug users started out with marijuana.

Now the country, as well as employers, are faced with a new and even more devastating gateway drug: prescription painkillers or opioids.

People feel safe when they’re prescribed a drug by their doctor and don’t always realize that prescription painkillers can take them to the dark world of drug addition. Their quest for pain relief overshadows caution, and before they realize it they have become addicted to a very powerful substance that can destroy their bodies, families, and jobs.

Today, prescription painkillers are fast becoming a top seller in the black market drug world. Patients who can no longer get prescriptions from their doctor are turning to the streets to satisfy their needs. And, some are turning to street heroin as a substitute. Believe it or not, in some places heroin is actually cheaper than black market prescription painkillers.

The medical community is taking aggressive action to reduce opioid abuse. They are creating registries to track patients so people can’t “doctor shop” in order to get multiple prescriptions. Pharmacies are requiring written prescriptions in order to reduce fraudulent prescriptions. But there is only so much they can do.

Employers can step up and help turn the tide on this problem. Through a comprehensive workplace drug & alcohol testing program, abusers can be identified and provided help. This not only saves the employer money on lost productivity, absenteeism, and on-the-job accident involvement, but it may also salvage a excellent employee who has been caught up in this addiction.

In 2015 52,000 people died from a drug overdose in the United States. Of those 52,000, 33,000 died from opioid overdoses. This is only the beginning of the tsunami of death by opioids. We will all have to work together to stop it in its tracks

Due Diligence and Risk Management

In order to keep your business out of trouble, consider:

Businesses face different risks. Case in point, transportation companies have a high risk of vehicular accident involvement while assisted living companies have a high risk of medical mix-ups, patient injury or personal property theft. So make sure you identify the risks specific to your business. You can use past company accident and litigation history as a guide in identifying your specific risks.

Keep in mind you can’t eliminate all risks within your business. You don’t want to waste your precious time and resources on things you can’t change or things that pose a low risk. Investing time and money in mitigating an asteroid strike on your company headquarters is probably not a good use of resources.

Define your risks and identify the ones that pose the greatest risk and the ones you have the most control over. Prioritize the most serious risks for action steps accordingly. There are probably a bazillion risks out there. However, you won’t live long enough the mitigate them all. If you spend more than 60 seconds thinking about a risk, it’s probably not significant.

Formulate proactive steps you can take in order to reduce the likelihood of those risk becoming an accident or a legal case. Consider steps you can actually take and you think will produce results. If you have multiple mitigation options, prioritize and implement them based on how much “bang for the buck” you will get from each one.

Tackle one risk at a time. Focus on your greatest risks first, then move on to the next. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be working on multiple plans at once. It just means you should be sure you have one plan working before pulling the trigger on another.

And last, but not least, the cost of reducing business risks is always much lower than the cost of cleaning up the mess later (accidents or litigation). However, we humans tend to forget this when the problem isn’t in our face. Remember, the reason that risk is no longer a problem is because you took action, not because it isn’t a risk anymore. It’s like a $50 oil change for your car versus a $8,000 new engine. Why didn’t I spend the $50??!

OSHA and Post-Accident Drug Testing

The Federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) was created to enhance safety and health within the workplace. Unfortunately, they have gotten off-track and are now trying to use their regulatory powers to penalize employers for implementing programs that foster safety within the workplace.

Case in point… OSHA’s latest intrusion on employer’s post-accident drug and alcohol testing programs. In their infinite wisdom (not backup by any real world experience of course), they have decided that post-accident drug/alcohol testing somehow deters employees from reporting on-the-job injuries.

Forget the fact that comprehensive workplace drug and alcohol testing programs improve the safety culture and performance within a company.

Forget the fact that another federal agency,  SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration), has reported that 70% of all drug users are employed, that they are 3.6 times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident and 5 times more likely to file a worker’s compensation claim than non-users. Yes, forget all the facts regarding the safety benefits (especially to the individual worker) of workplace drug and alcohol testing programs and instead regulate quality employers based on the baseless perceptions and beliefs of bureaucrats. No facts allowed!

The good news is that there are some organizations that have the guts to stand up to the federal government. In this case, it was the AGC (Associated General Contractors), who took OSHA to task and got them to back off some of their ridiculous guidance on recordkeeping and reporting rules. Although OSHA has tempered its stance on this issue, don’t think this issue is behind us.

Keep in mind:

  • Make sure your Workplace Drug & Alcohol Testing policy and program clearly defines the circumstances when post-accident testing will be conducted. You can’t have a broad or general testing provision, you must have specific criteria.
  • Don’t deviate from your policy and program provisions when conducting post-accident testing.
  • If there are multiple employees involved in an accident, be sure to test all of them.
  • OSHA says it will not issue citations under the rule for post-incident drug testing conducted in accordance with state workers’ compensation laws—whether drug testing under the law is mandatory or voluntary.

OSHA notes that drug testing employees whose injury could not possibly have arisen from any particular incident, like muscular skeletal disorders (e.g., tendonitis), would likely violate the rule and may result in the employer being cited.

Hopefully this really bad idea will just fade away, and OSHA will get out of employer’s way in making their workplaces safer for all employees.

Speed Limiters – Really?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was established to enhance the safety of commercial motor vehicles (trucks) on America’s highways.

It has been a very, very long time since they have actually proposed or promulgated regulations that would positively further their mission. Instead, they are insistent in establishing regulations that promote bureaucratic expansion, overreach and job security.

Case in point, mandated Speed Limiters on all trucks over 26,001 lbs. Why is this a straw man regulation? Consider:

  • There is no data supporting the contention that excessive speeds contribute to commercial vehicle (truck) crashes or commercial vehicle related highway fatalities. In fact, quite the contrary is true. Although the causal factor of “driving too fast for conditions”, which could mean driving 20 mph on black ice, may  be a frequent contributor there are no direct links to “high” speeds and commercial vehicle accidents.
  • The jury is still out on differentiated speed limits between trucks and passenger vehicles. Some states have established lower speed limits for commercial vehicles which may cause traffic congestion and dangerous interactions between trucks and cars. One causal factor that is significant in truck crashes, is that of being rear-ended by other vehicles (which trucks have no control over). With speed limits varying state by state, a one-size fits all, nationwide truck speed limiter could in fact produce the opposite results and increase truck related accidents and fatalities.
  • FMCSA say’s the regulation could save lives and $1 billion in fuel costs per year. The operative word here is “could”. Show me the “beef”, where’s the data. Additionally, I thought the FMCSA was a safety based agency. Why the concern for fuel savings?

Once again we have a federal agency attempting to establish a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. And that solution is going to cost everyone. It will cost the trucking companies, drivers and consumers. And what benefit will America get in return?  Zilch, zip, nada!!

Marijuana Impairment in the Workplace

With Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington legalizing “recreational marijuana” many folks are buying into the false narrative that marijuana is a harmless and “natural” drug; and that users can safely perform job functions just as well as their non-using counterparts. Nothing could be further from the truth.

 The physical and mental impairment effects of marijuana remain in the system for long periods of time. Unlike alcohol and other drugs, which are quickly eliminated from the body, THC(tetrahydrocannabinol) remains in the body long after use. THC is a fat soluble chemical, causing it to bind to fat molecules in the body. The subsequent “slow release” of  THC into the body causes ongoing physical & mental impairment. Even though a user may claim they’re not “buzzed”, since they haven’t smoked in a day or two, there is still significant and ongoing physical and mental impairment due to the release of the stored THC. Depending on how often and how much a person uses, the slow release effects can last up to 30 days or more.

Frequent users begin to build a physical tolerance towards THC. In order to get the “buzz” they want, they need to smoke more often or use marijuana containing higher levels of THC. Because of this, a regular user will build up higher levels of stored THC in the body. This causes the  “slow release” effects to be stronger and last longer, producing a higher and longer level of physical and mental impairment.

Marijuana is not the soft, harmless drug its proponents would have you believe. It’s a powerful and addictive drug which can have devastating consequences in the workplace. Users put themselves, fellow employees and the general public at risk. For an employer, the safety and liability risks can be tremendous.

Keep in mind that although recreational use of marijuana has been legalized in these states, this doesn’t mean that employers must accommodate for its use by employees. In other words, people are free to use marijuana, however you as an employer don’t have to accept employees testing positive for marijuana in the workplace.