Category Archives: Safety

This is the key to dealing with addiction and a host of employee issues

Is Addiction a Risk in the Workplace?

Book is finally out

I was talking to a human resource manager a few weeks ago about an employee who worked in his company. This employee was driving a company car and there had been numerous complaints from other employees that this man had alcohol on his breath at various times throughout the day. The HR manager said that the employee was almost ready to admit that he had a problem and that they could finally do something.

I asked, “What if the employee killed a child in a motor vehicle accident before he admitted he needed help and you had prior knowledge of a this serious safety situation?” “I see what you mean,” he said and wanted some advice from me.” I suggested that he should take the employee out of that car immediately until he could get a substance abuse professional (SAP) to assess him for addiction and to see what the SAP recommended. The SAP will either recommend treatment or education depending on the nature and seriousness of the problem. The company will then have a written treatment plan and documentation to promote further action.

The manager was concerned with human rights of the employee. I was concerned for the child or others that could be killed or maimed if nothing was done while people were waiting for this man to get help on his own. My primary concern as a Substance Abuse Professional is the safety of the public and the other employees working with an addicted employee. The employee and his or her rights are secondary to the safety of others. The idea is to address the safety concerns first.

What constitutes reasonable cause to ask an employee to undertake a SAP assessment for addiction. What sort of things should a manager look for while observing or hearing about this employee?

· Alcohol on the breath. (That one is pretty obvious and serious)
· Drunk driving or other charges related to alcohol or drugs.
· There are physiological and physical symptoms one can learn and be attentive to.
· Erratic work performance, especially, from someone who was very good at their job. (Look for changes)
· Absenteeism is especially useful clue that the person has a problem with something.
· Rumours are useful. They can help you to establish a pattern if there are enough of them.
· Unreasonable excuses for being away or not completing tasks on time.
· Moodiness and problems with other employees.
(I have a checklist on my site called Checklist for Managers that lists many subtle clues)

How do you know if it is addiction?  Actually, you really do not know if it is an addiction. You would not know that until the person is professionally assessed. You may suspect but unless you have some sort of specialized knowledge and training you would not be able to diagnose this your self. Besides, you do not want or need all of that personal information that an addiction assessment gains, nor would the employee want to give it to you. That personal information needed for the assessment must stay with a third party for confidentiality reasons. That is another reason to us a SAP.

If you think that something is not right, there is a policy violation or that a person has an alcohol or drug problem, you should be documenting the behaviour. You are trying to build a case that something is wrong and it would be reasonable to assume that it may be addiction. To correct policy violations or improve employee behaviour is one of your functions. That is your job. That is solution-focussed intervention. Whether it is addiction or not you will have to deal with it and take steps to correct it. The SAP interview will move you to a solution. Either the person accepts the help or they do not. Are you going to let someone work with the smell of alcohol or break other company rules without taking action? It is not inhumane to ask people to be responsible for their behaviour, especially, when that behaviour has the potential to harm the employee or others.

In my seminars I hear of some really horrific cases that employees and mangers appear to be putting up with that in my opinion could be solved with some action. My on-site seminar includes a slide that says,” Addicted people do not get help because they see the light but because they feel the heat on their ___. “ In the 32 years that I have been in the addiction business, I have found that to be true especially when the workplace is actively trying to help. Everyone that I have ever personally known or heard about who has recovered from addiction, has done so only when the chips were down never when they were on a roll. Something happened in their life to make them see that there is a problem.

The workplace is uniquely able to influence the employee in such a way as to get them to look at himself or herself long enough to see that there is a problem. The choice is then theirs to do something about it.

 

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Everyone Must Do Their Share

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We can’t rely on one person to carry the weight and responsibility of making the workplace safe. It won’t work. If supervisors do not understand the policy and the need for safety they could easily let someone go on who has the smell of alcohol on them for example. They could believe a dumb excuse that it is aftershave or that it was only two beer the night before. They could refuse to alcohol test this person thinking that it will get better down the road. They could neglect to carry out the un-announced alcohol tests that have been recommended by the SAP.

Getting used to enabling is easy. People like you because you don’t challenge them. They like you because you are a people pleaser. They don’t respect you because they think that you are not worthy of respect because you are not doing your job. They think you are easily manipulated. Go on about your day and ignore the warning signs of addiction problems and pray to God this person does not cause an accident before you retire. I have known people like this. They are not serving anyone but themselves.

Unfortunately “it all comes out in the wash” as my father used to say down the road. Someone is going to be accountable for incompetence and poor supervision if there is an accident and then it becomes not pretty. So much easier just to do your job and let the chips fall as they may and you may be helping someone. One thing you will be keeping your workplace safe and following due diligence procedures.

 

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Why Would You Want Your Employee to Have a Substance Abuse Assessment?

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Whay bother with an assessment? Can’t you just ask the employee what they want?

No! You are looking to have some simple questions answered that you probably can’t answer yourself. If these simple questions are not answered then over the long term the employee could get worse, allot worse. That is bad for safety and also for the person. If things go really bad they could be very bad for you. Accident maybe?

You want to know how bad the problem is? That is important because that has to be identified to make a treatment plan.

What is the appropriate treatment? Many bosses think that a 28 day rehab will solve all the employee’s problems but how do you know and is that reasonable?  What if it is not?  A friend of mine who used to work in a mental hospital said “I had a whole wing of rehab grads.”

Is the person following the treatment plan? This is important because if they are that points to someone who will be safe in the workplace, if they are not then that would be a negative for sure.

Are they stable enough to return to work with a plan that they are following? Does alcohol or drug testing need to be invoked for safety and deterrence?

Yes, these questions will be answered with an assessment, safety will be addressed and hopefully an employee will be restored.

 

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Returning a worker to Work after Alcohol or Drug Infraction

20170710_114319One day in a shopping mall I overheard a conversation between two young ladies. One was telling the other that she had just failed her driving test because she did not completely stop at a stop sign. Apparently, the examiner immediately cancelled the rest of the test and told her she had failed because of that one action. She told her friend how shocked and hurt she was as she felt she performed pretty well during the other parts of the driving test. She was furious at the examiner for not passing her. She claimed it was all his fault that she didn’t pass.

I thought about how this story relates to my role in the whole return-to-duty process. The driving examiner was preventing unsafe drivers from getting their license. The young woman thought that since she only went through one stop sign and didn’t hurt anyone, she should be forgiven. She reasoned that lots of people go through stop signs without harm. The difference was she was with an examiner trained to spot mistakes. If she was unable to refrain from going through a stop sign with an examiner in the car, what kind of driver would she be when she was by herself? That is basically how I look at return-to-duty as well. If an employee is not going to make the effort to help themselves while they are out of work and being monitored, why would they make any effort to stay well when they are returned to their job functions?

The answer is that they won’t.

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Alcohol and Drug Testing are not Illegal if done within a policy. Do they have a policy?

The recent arrest of a Sunwing Airlines pilot in Calgary is spurring questions about Canadian laws around alcohol testing for pilots and crew—protocols which appear to be unclear to airlines themselves, Global News has learned.

On Dec. 31, the pilot tested at three times over the legal alcohol limit two hours after he was found unconscious in the cockpit.

READ MORE: Calgary police charge Sunwing Airlines pilot with being drunk before takeoff

Sunwing spokesperson Jacqueline Grossman originally suggested it is “illegal in Canada to do mandatory full or random drug or alcohol testing on employees” in an email to Global News Monday night.

But the federal government says there is no specific provision in the Canada Labour Code addressing alcohol or drug testing in the workplace.

“This is the first such incident that has occurred in our 11-year history as an airline,” Grossman said in an updated statement Tuesday.

“As a federally regulated airline with unionized workers, our initial legal advice has been that we are not in a position to enforce drug or alcohol testing for our workers. That said, it is a complex legal issue which requires further review.”

Watch below: Miroslav Gronych, 37, will appear in court Jan. 5 after police say his blood alcohol was three times the legal limit. Reid Fiest reports.

Miroslav Gronych, a Slovakian national in Canada on a work visa, was escorted from the aircraft after the gate crew and the co-pilot noticed odd behaviour and alerted police. He was charged with having care and control of an aircraft while impaired and having care and control of an aircraft while having a blood alcohol level over .08 (or exceeding 80 mgs of alcohol per 100mL of blood).

Calgary police said he was released on $1,000 bail and had to surrender his passport. He is also suspended from flying any other aircraft in Canada.

Dr. Gregg Bendrick, an aerospace medicine specialist who also works as a senior aviation medical examiner with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said Monday there is a clear drug and alcohol testing program for commercial airline pilots in the U.S., which includes a random testing component. He said anyone identified as impaired would then be evaluated to see if they suffer from alcoholism.

READ MORE: Sunwing Airlines on drunk pilot arrested in Calgary – all foreign pilots trained, approved

He said the reading of “three times the legal limit” reported by Calgary police would mean a reading of about 2.4 mgs of alcohol per 100mL of blood, raising the possibility of an addiction.

Grossman said Gronych had “no previous violations of this nature in his file” and that he’s been suspended pending a Jan. 5 court date.

Grossman originally referred Global News to the Canadian Human Rights Act for details on how a “non-legislated drug or alcohol testing program in a private sector company would be challenged.”

But Employment and Social Development Canada said random testing is legal.

“Random testing of employees in safety-sensitive positions (defined as those in which incapacity due to drug or alcohol impairment could result in direct and significant risk of injury to the employee, others or the environment) has been determined to be permissible in a number of circumstances, as long as employees are notified that alcohol testing is a condition of employment,” spokesperson Amélie Maisonneuve said in an email sent Tuesday to Global News.

“Currently, there is no specific provision in the Canada Labour Code addressing drug and alcohol testing in the workplace.”

She then referred Global News to the Canadian Human Rights Commission on their Policy on Alcohol and Drug Testing, which reads, in part:

If testing is part of a broader program of medical assessment, monitoring and support, employers can test for alcohol in any of the following situations:

  • on a random basis, for employees who hold safety-sensitive positions;
  • for “reasonable cause,” where an employee reports for work in an unfit state and there is evidence of substance abuse;
  • after a significant incident or accident has occurred and there is evidence that an employee’s act or omission may have contributed to the incident or accident; or
  • following treatment for alcohol abuse, or disclosure of a current alcohol dependency or abuse

Transport Canada said it is “currently reviewing the pilot’s records and Sunwing Airlines’ procedures and protocols,” however, said the airline is responsible for any disciplinary action against the pilot. A spokesperson said alcohol testing was outside the realm of Transport Canada’s involvement in the incident.

“Air carriers are responsible for their own human resources policies, including random drug and alcohol testing,” spokesperson Natasha Gauthier said in an email to Global News.

Air Canada and the Air Canada Pilots Association did not respond to Global News requests for comment on their policies.

A WestJet spokesperson said the company has an “alcohol and drug policy that provides for testing in a manner that is consistent with Canadian law.” WestJet declined to comment on the specifics of the policy, including whether pilots are aware of alcohol testing and whether it is random.

With files from Reid Fiest

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Alcoholic High Wire Act in the Workplace

The Alcoholic High Wire Act

I have heard it said that watching the alcoholic is like watching the high wire act at a circus. This is a good analogy which explains the relationship that the addict has with people around him or her. There are themes common in all addictions that we can see when we recognize patterns and are looking in the right places.

At the circus the high wire performer climbs the big supports and the crowd gets nervous. “Look how high it is” they exclaim! They are excited to see what he is going to do and how he is going to pull off the next part of the act.  He walks across the small wire balancing a long pole and the crowd’s heart paces. The circus actor who has done this many times before takes the crowd through death defying feats but always winds up fine on the other end. Part of the suspense comes from the observer’s minds knowing that the circus actor could wind up dead on the hard floor if he falls but he never does. He builds his performance and just keeps on doing more and more dangerous things until the act ends in a heart pumping finale. The crowd knows he is on that high dangerous high wire and they know anything can happen but he always comes out of it and they are relax and become relieved.

Here is one of the major points I have been telling people for years. The problem with our society is that it believes it has to wait for the grand finale to play out before anything is done with an addict but society is wrong. You don’t have to wait for disaster to happen. With the correct process you can act now!

This high wire act explains the performance of a drinking alcoholic or drug addict perfectly. Many around the addict know that there is a problem and they also know that maybe the next performance could be bad but they hope it will be better. They look and they wait. Individuals look in anticipation at what the next act will be. He is in trouble again at work or with the police or with his family. She has another divorce and her kids are mad. How will he ever get out of this one? They all watch with wonder at how the addict skillfully guides everyone’s eyes to something other than his/her drug that is causing the problem but never ever the addict themselves. We then question our own sanity because we think we are seeing things. “Maybe it is not the drug at all” we say.

The addict then shows us that it is always someone else’s fault. It may be their bad childhood, terrible life, ex-wife, awful kids, the bad deal at work, the stock market, – something is making this poor person miserable. No wonder they drink we think. You would drink too! Everyone watches with amazement but no one does anything but watch. They sit back and wait for the finale.

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Success With Addiction in The Workplace

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What Constitutes Success?

The benchmarks of a successful alcohol and drug program should be based on safety, not whether the individual causing the problem changes or not. If it is run correctly, no one gets hurt and the person with problems has the opportunity to get help. That is success right there! If the person takes the help and changes that is a terrific bonus but that is not the ultimate goal.

What do you do with someone who does not want to stop drinking or drugging? You will realize with some education that there is nothing you can do to force them to stop. Gentle pressure can be put on people but the main pressure has to come from the person themselves. They have to get to a place where they know deep down that they are the ones that have to change. They begin to understand that they are responsible for their own problems. They see that no one is coming to save them because they have to save themselves.

Firing the person and then rehiring them without some type of verifiable change is not the answer. That happens and it just teaches an addict that they can get their job back without changing so the next time they drink or use they believe there are no consequences. True and long lasting change must come from within. If the desire for change is not there then that is your answer and you may as well know this sooner than later, they are not ready for change at this time.

People with alcohol and drug problems fail to stop drinking or drugging until they come to the realization that their usage will cause them problems. That is just the way it is. For an addict to recover many factors have to come into play and sometimes it is just is not the right time for them to see their part. They are not ready to stop yet and they may never stop. Do you do wait forever until they decide to stop and allow them to become a safety risk and liability for your company?  The whole is more important than the parts. There is a balance between safety and human rights.

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Drunk Driving – Cause For Concern in an Employee

 Drunk Driving Conviction

When someone shows such little control that they are charged for drinking and driving that is a big cause for alarm. Society is becoming more realistic about the dangers of drunk driving in recent years even though the media has minimized it in various ways.  The drunk driver is controlling a dangerous weapon, the automobile and there is a potential for great destruction.

Whether they have very poor judgment, an issue with addiction or both, there is something that is not right with an employee who drinks and drives in this day and age where information on the dangers are everywhere.  An opportunity to your employee assessed is right there for you. have

A drunk driving conviction is definitely a sign addiction although more information is needed. Some companies with an advanced alcohol or drug policies send their employees for an assessment when they find out that they have had a recent drunk driving conviction especially if the employee is in a safety sensitive job.

It just makes sense that if you have an employee that has a current drunk driving offence that there is a chance that they may have an alcohol problem that may affect their job performance and the company’s safety. Would you be comfortable with an employee operating an 80 foot crane in an industrial setting with lots of other employees underneath if you knew that they just lost their license for drunk driving recently? Wouldn’t you feel some kind of need to get this checked out? If they are a hard-core drinker they could have a seizure on the work site for example and kill someone. Alternatively, they could be still impaired from the night before or hung over and making poor choices. They could destroy equipment worth millions of dollars. What kind of reputation would your company have if some of these things happened to you and you were letting signs of impairment or addiction slide till the next time? These questions are very useful to think about.

Alcohol is a dangerous drug to some people that are unable to limit their usage. It is really one of the most dangerous drugs out there. It can kill quite easily. Read about why alcohol is called Europe’s Youth Killer. http://www.boes.org/world/europe/who010219alc.html  Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs to have in the workplace.

Not long ago I had to convince a man that a drinking and driving offence on his vacation is still of interest to his employer especially where he drove as a condition of his job. He could not understand why it was any of his company’s business where he was not on the job. Since he lost his driving privileges he was no longer able to drive as was one of his duties. The employer in its lack of foresight just gave him another job where he did not have to drive. As a result of this the employee did not have to look at his problem. This was another example of a company enabling an employee to stay sick and thwarting any sort of realization of safety and drunk driving. The employer should have sent him for an assessment before he ever got back to work for a more effective experience. His employer was actually teaching him that drinking and driving was an ok activity and catered to him with a new job where he did not have to drive.

One of the themes that I bring up when interviewing an employee during an assessment is their legal history. I have noticed that there is a high correlation with addiction and drunk driving. The two go together and if someone has had a conviction it puts me on alert during the assessment that there may be a problem. Most average people do not drink and drive.

The law has recently changed where I live regarding boating safety. If boater gets a drunk driving charge and conviction on the water, part of the sentence is that they would also lose their driver’s license for the road as well. This is only logical and makes total sense to me. If you show little enough care for safety in operating a water craft, it says to me that you could easily drive a car drunk as well.

If someone demonstrates a lack of judgement using a powerful and potentially dangerous weapon called the automobile, what does that say about their thinking process and their capacity to do harm in your workplace?  This is a perfect opportunity to help the employee and protect the public by referring them to a substance abuse professional.

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