Screening Can Cut Down on Liabilities

Here's the bottom line: Employing a substance abuser is a risky move.

EMPLOYING safe and substance-free employees, as well as maintaining a substance-free workforce, are high priorities for business owners and human resource administrators. Statistics show that implementing regulatory drug and alcohol screenings can potentially save a company hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical and accident claims.

When considering making drug and alcohol testing mandatory rather than voluntary, an employer can ask himself or herself whether the cost of implementing regular or pre-employment drug and alcohol screenings is more beneficial than the risk of expensive accidents caused by a substance abuser on the job. Potential losses result from worker's compensation claims, medical expenses, cost in productivity, and costs from on-site accidents to both substance abusers and co-workers. Approximately 35 to 50 percent of all worker's compensation claims are related to substance abuse in the workplace and injuries on and off the job, costing employers about $200 billion annually.

Employing a substance abuser is a risky move. According to the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, 77 percent of illicit drug users and 90 percent of alcoholics are employed, mainly in industries such as construction, commercial truck driving, and manufacturing.

Substance abusers also can affect a company's productivity--from poor job performance to missed days of work. Statistics from the Ohio agency show the effects are both dramatic and expensive:

Productivity: Substance users are 33 to 50 percent less productive.

Absenteeism: Substance users are absent about three weeks or more per year and are tardy three times more often that non-users.

Accidents: Substance users are three to four times more likely to have an accident on the job and five times more likely to file a worker's compensation claim.

Medical claims: Substance users file 300 to 400 percent more costly medical claims.

Employee theft: An estimated 50 to 80 percent of all pilferage, theft and loss are due to substance-using employees.

Unproductive in Certain Industries?
Some counter that regulatory drug screening is not as cost-effective for some industries. The statistics do not always apply for all industries, and the positive results are not large enough to justify implementing a regular screening policy. An article from the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment from Jan. 28, 2005, suggests that abuse-based absenteeism is, at best, an incidental cost to businesses and is an insufficient reason for justifying any significant investment of human resource dollars to achieve a substance-free workplace.

Another article from Health Services Research from February 2004 concluded that positive impacts resulting from a drug-free workplace program or regulatory testing could only be attributed to certain industries, with the strongest evidence of an effect in the construction industry. The estimated net cost savings for the construction industry were positive, although small in magnitude.

Some industries have strict regulations for drug and alcohol screening polices. For example, in the commercial truck driving industry it is critical that any physician who performs Department of Transportation physicals or urine drug screens is certified according to the DOT's requirements. If the collector is not certified, a drug test can be determined invalid if it is ever challenged at a later date.

Because many collection facilities and occupational medicine practices are still unaware of the requirements set by the DOT, fleet owners and commercial truck drivers must research the credentials of those performing the collections.

Finding a qualified collector also is crucial in other industries. The collector should be certified and trained in the drug screening process and have direct contact with the employee. Without the collector's ensuring the integrity of the collection sample and collection process, the test itself may lose credibility.

This was proven in a case involving a male employee who had a forklift accident. He did not injure anyone but himself and caused approximately $50,000 damage to company equipment. The injured employee underwent urine drug testing according to company policy and tested positive for marijuana. The employee was terminated as a result of his company's drug-free workplace policy. However, the employee hired an attorney and discovered the collector at the medical facility was not certified to federal regulations. This made the drug test invalid, forcing the company to rehire the employee.

As of Jan. 3, 2003, each person conducting a drug test collection for any employer following federal guidelines must be qualified in accordance with federal rules. The moral of the story is that employers must verify that the facility performing urine drug collections and breath alcohol testing for them has qualified and certified collectors. Qualified collection facilities should provide clients with copies of the certifications that collectors obtain upon completion of the training.

The Importance of MRO Services
Occupational medicine practices that offer alcohol and drug screening also should have a Medical Review Officer (MRO) available to assist businesses, as well as labor and government agencies, in assuring proper and complete compliance with federal regulations regarding drug and alcohol testing programs. An MRO is a licensed physician who is responsible for receiving and interpreting the drug screening results and determining any medical explanation for positive results.

Proper drug and alcohol screening is also important to consider when outsourcing services to vendors, especially when working with a fleet company to transport products. A business owner or company executive should check to make sure the fleet is properly licensed and its drivers have passed numerous drug and alcohol screenings from a certified collector. It can be a large liability for a company if its vendor causes an accident that is related to substance use.

Every industry or employer has its own set of circumstances that may not apply to statistical data. Industries known to have chronic substance problems for years would benefit greatly by implementing regulatory drug testing. However, other industries with far fewer substance abuse problems could be wasting funds.

If an employer or company is contemplating the implementation of a regulatory drug testing program, it must consider a few things: whether substance abuse is a problem in the individual setting; whether testing will address the problem; the costs vs. the benefits of testing; and any ethical or legal question that might be raised by the program.

This article appeared in the August 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the August 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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