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Occupational Disability
Tuesday, August 1, 2000
All play and no work

So-called ‘drug abuse’ is apparently rife in the work place. Apart from interfering with productivity it is also increasingly found to be the initiating cause of occupational death and injury.

For example, studies indicate that in about a fifth of cases where there’s an injury on duty one of the parties involved has alcohol in their blood.
Two thirds of the people with alcohol-related injury are not heavy drinkers. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that up to 89% of males and 77% of females do drink, although only maybe three in a hundred would qualify as problem drinkers.
In about three quarters of all incidents of fatal violence, the victim has a high blood/alcohol level (it’s not always possible to check the perpetrator).
Aside from alcohol abuse, the effects of dagga, mandrax, cocaine, LSD, heroin, Welconal, and legal drugs like sedatives and tranquillizers are also significant contributors to the incidence if injury.
“The per capita consumption of alcohol and drugs in a given society is the strongest predictor of the number and type of injuries its citizens will experience,” comments Penny Mead, National Marketing Manager of Occupational Care South Africa, a subsidiary of Fedsure Health.
She says the costs, both to society and to individual businesses, are horrendous. “Way back in 1990 the then Minister of Health estimated that the annual cost of alcohol abuse alone amounted to R1,2 billion. Probably half of this cost is in respect of lost production.”
This is how some of that lost production mounts up: a study carried out at a Free State mine shows that employees who drink are three to 14 times as likely to show up late for work; are off work five to seven times more often; and use three times more sick leave.
“If a company takes serious steps to identify at-risk employees and help them, it could reduce lost production and other costs significantly,” she says. “Even better, if it establishes programmes aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of substance abuse generally, it could have a significant impact on the amount of production lost to sick leave. In Australia, one study showed that complications from alcohol and smoking accounted for 25% of all sick leave taken!”
Mead suggests that all company executives should take a long, hard look at what their company is doing in this regard, and ask themselves if it’s enough.
“Do you have a policy about substance abuse in the first place? Do you have intervention programmes for substance abusers - and at what point do you intervene?
“By the time the abuse becomes obvious to the point where it’s seriously impaired performance - the point at which most company managements intervene – you’ll already have racked up substantial losses, and rehabilitating the worker will be harder and more expensive.
“Finally, do you have on-the-job programmes that proactively promote health, warn about the dangers of substance abuse, give workers graphic messages about what the cost is to themselves, their families and the company, and do you tell them where to go if they feel they need help?”
For more information please contact Penny Mead (011) 239 3743.

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:13.7 1st August, 2000
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