Workplace Impairment

June was National Safety Month. In recognition, the National Safety Council (NCS) dedicated the entire second week of June to the topic of workplace impairment. While impairment in the workplace may seem like an insignificant issue that rarely happens or causes injury, in truth, it’s an extremely injurious and costly problem that impacts employers and employees nationwide. 

Here’s an overview of what you should know about how workplace impairment is defined, what qualifies as workplace impairment, how to recognize workplace impairment, and what to do if you witness workplace impairment. 

What Is Workplace Impairment?

Workplace impairment is defined by the NCS as: 

“…anything that could impede one’s ability to function normally or safely as a result of a number of factors—from chemical substances, such as alcohol, opioids or cannabis, to physical factors like fatigue, as well experiencing mental distress and social factors like stress.”

This broad definition shows that workplace impairment refers to far more than just drug or alcohol use. Indeed, a worker could be impaired by fatigue, mental distress, or stress—things that may be more difficult to recognize for others in the workplace, but which could be just as dangerous. 

Why Is Workplace Impairment a Problem?

Workplace impairment is a big problem. In fact, according to the same source linked above (NSC), an overwhelming 90 percent of employers say that they are concerned about workplace impairment in the form of opioids, alcohol, mental health disorders, and chronic stress in their workplaces. Over 50 percent also reported that workplace impairment has impacted the safety of their workplace.

Impairment in the workplace is often called a hidden risk as, unlike many other safety concerns, it is not always easily detectable or easy to remedy. A worker’s impairment can impact their ability to perform their job safely and responsibly, which can lead to accidents and injuries—including fatal injuries—in the workplace and high employer costs. 

Statistics show that untreated sleep disorders can lead to an employer annual average cost of $3,500 per employee; untreated substance abuse disorders can lead to an employer annual average cost of $8,817 per employee and experiencing mental distress in the workplace can lead to an annual average employer cost of $15,000 per employee. 

How to Recognize Workplace Impairment

One of the first steps to addressing the problem of workplace impairment is being able to recognize and respond to impairment in the workplace. 

Impairment can look very different depending on the type of impairment and how the specific individual responds to impairment. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), some common signs of impairment include:

  • Personality changes and new erratic behavior
  • Signs of impairment from drugs or alcohol use in the workplace, such as poor coordination, slurred speech, slow response times, glassy eyes, unsteady gait, etc.
  • Performing work in an unsafe manner
  • Failing an alcohol or drug test
  • Other behaviors that could be due to impairment, such as consistent tardiness or absenteeism, or reduced quality of work or productivity

Note that any of the above signs, either when considered individually or in combination, are not necessarily diagnostic of impairment. If any of the above are noticed, it’s important that further action be taken to determine the root cause and provide the worker with the support they need. 

What to Do If You Witness Workplace Impairment

If you notice signs of impairment in a co-worker, it’s important to take action. As detailed above, workplace impairment can be extremely hazardous and leads to injuries and deaths in the workplace every year. These accidents can cause harm both to the impaired worker and to others in and outside of the workplace. 

If you suspect impairment, you should report the impairment to your supervisor or manager immediately. Your workplace should have a workplace impairment policy in place that outlines the next steps. 

For Employers: Workplace Impairment Policies

For employers, it’s important to have a workplace impairment policy in place that details how impairment is defined, what actions will be taken when a person is suspected of impairment or found to be impaired, how employees can confidentially report impairment, employee training and education around impairment, what substances are allowed at work and how the use of those medications can be reported to the employer (i.e. the use of certain impairing prescription medications), and what disciplinary actions will take place following a finding of impairment. 

Get More Resources on Workplace Impairment

Learning about workplace impairment is important for both employers and employees. Some valuable resources on the topic include:

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *