Is the Definition of Workplace Impairment Changing?

A new survey finds that employers believe “impairment” at work means more than the results of substances.

Impairment has always been a workplace safety issue. Workers are unable to safely do their jobs if their ability to work is diminished by substances such as alcohol or opioids.

According to a new survey, 90 percent of employers believe that workplace impairment can stem from substances as well as the mental health and chronic stress issues impacting workers due to a lengthy pandemic.

The National Safety Council, the organization behind the survey, has asked employers to consider far more than substance misuse when addressing “workplace impairment.” Employers should update employer policies and procedures to better outline workplace impairment as anything that could impede one’s ability to function normally or safety as a result of a number of factors — from chemical substances, such as alcohol, opioids or cannabis, to physical factors like fatigue, as well as experiencing mental distress and social factors like stress.

The Council began a holistic assessment of “workplace impairment” in 2020 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and found that 93 percent of employers agreed with a broader description of impairment — one that extends beyond substances to include health and wellbeing.

“The National Safety Council has been the nation’s safety watchdog for more than 100 years, identifying emerging issues and developing resources to help keep workers safe from the workplace to anyplace,” said Lorraine Martin, NSC president and CEO. “We believe the issue of impairment is multifaceted and therefore requires an approach that recognizes all aspects of it. We urge employers to join us in looking at impairment through the new lens that our current moment demands.”

The Council found that the pandemic has forced a new era of workplace safety, one in which employers are grappling with increased substance use and misuse, as well as increased mental health distress, including depression and anxiety. To read more about this study and the NSC’s recommendations to employers, click here.

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