By JOSHUA CLIFTON, editor of the LRP newsletter
Workers Compensation Report, where this article first appeared
According to the study, "Workplace Screening & Brief Intervention: What Employers Can and Should Do About Excessive Alcohol Use," alcohol-related problems are disproportionately represented in American business, with employees in the hospitality and construction industries significantly more likely to be dependent on or abuse alcohol.
Approximately 15 percent of employees in the hospitality industry and 14.7 percent of construction workers suffer from serious alcohol-related problems. Those industries are followed by wholesale trade workers (11.9 percent), professional employees (10.6 percent), retail trade workers (9.7 percent), finance and real estate employees (9.2 percent), and manufacturing workers (8.6 percent).
"Most employees represented in these numbers are not dependent on alcohol," said Eric Goplerud, director of Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems at the George Washington University Medical Center. "But they do use alcohol in ways that lead to short-term safety problems and long-term health consequences."
Andrew Webber, president and CEO of the National Business Coalition on Health, said the impact of alcohol problems in the workplace is a tremendous hidden challenge, in part because very few people with an alcohol problem are ever identified.
To develop a better understanding of the impact of alcohol problems in the workplace, researchers conducted an extensive analysis of two large government-sponsored epidemiological surveys--the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and the National Comorbidity Survey. This analysis estimated the workplace impact of alcohol problems, categorized as alcohol dependence (alcoholism) and alcohol abuse, on 13 sectors of U.S. industry.
Among the highlights of the study, researchers found that male employees, in particular, are at a significantly greater risk for abuse. Men working in the hospitality and construction are approximately 50 percent more likely to have an alcohol-related problem than women in the same industry.
In wholesale trade, men are almost three times more likely to have an alcohol problem than women. In addition, more than 18 percent of young workers between the ages of 18 and 25 have an alcohol-related problem, compared to just 7 percent of workers 26 and older.
The results of the analysis have been used to develop a Web-based calculator that employers can use to estimate the impact of alcohol problems and the potential cost savings to be gained through workplace screening and brief intervention.
The report urged employers to adopt the practice known as Screening and Brief Intervention, which has been shown to reduce excessive alcohol use when administered to patients in a variety of settings, including hospitals and universities.
According to the report, the SBI method involves two separate skills that, used together, can reduce risky alcohol use and prevent some individuals from processing to dependence.
Screening involves asking employees questions about patterns of alcohol use. Screening everyone is important because the goal is to identify people at risk for dependence, as well as those who are already alcohol dependent.
A brief intervention is a conversation between a healthcare professional and individual that is designed to reduce alcohol use. This conversation, researchers said, presents an opportunity to discuss the health consequences of risky alcohol use and agree on strategies to reduce the patient's drinking.
Researchers said that if SBI were to become a widespread practice in workplace wellness and employee assistance programs, the prevalence of alcohol problems would be significantly reduced.
"Alcohol problems affect every workplace, with some industries paying a tremendous price." Goplerud said. "It's in the interest of every employer to do something. Screening and brief intervention is a proven approach that promises to effectively reduce workplace alcohol problems."
In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends a comprehensive drug-free workforce approach that includes five components, which are:
1. A policy. Every organization's policy should be unique and tailored to meet its specific needs. However, all effective policies have a few aspects in common. It is important that policy explains why the policy is being implemented, provides a clear description of prohibited behaviors and offers an explanation of the consequences for violating the policy.
2. Supervisor training. After developing a drug-free workplace policy, an organization should train those individuals closest to its workforce--supervisors. Training should ensure that supervisors understand the policy, ways to recognize and deal with employees who have performance problems that may be related to alcohol and other drugs, and how to refer employees to available assistance.
3. Employee education. Effective employee education programs provide company-specific information, such as the details of the drug-free workplace policy, as well as generalized information about the nature of alcohol and drug addiction; its impact on work performance, health and personal life; and types of help available for individuals with related problems.
4. Employee assistance. A critical component of a drug-free workplace program is providing assistance or support to employees who have problems with alcohol and other drugs.
5. Drug testing. Before deciding to conduct testing, employers should consider a few factors, including who will be tested, when tests will be conducted, which drugs will be tested for and how tests will be conducted. Employers also must be familiar with any local, state and federal laws, or any collective bargaining agreements that may impact when, where and how testing is performed.
October 15, 2008
Copyright 2008© LRP Publications