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Drugs a hot, confusing topic in workplace safety

Drugs a hot, confusing topic in workplace safety

HOUSTON — The actions of employers are key when it comes to helping solve the drug crisis and ensuring safe workplaces, said a presenter at the National Safety Council Congress and Expo in Houston on Monday.

Speaking of drug testing, opioids, legalized marijuana and other issues facing the American workplace, Christine Clearwater, president of Delray Beach, Florida-based Drug-Free Solutions Group LLC, said the field is “radically changing.”

Along with that come the safety, financial and legal risk to employers, she told a packed conference room. Over the past 20 years, Ms. Clearwater’s drug policy consulting firm has helped some 2,000 employers draft workplace anti-drug policies — a first step employers should never avoid, she said.

There are “more drugs than ever before,” she said, adding, “it is very much a part of our lives; no matter where we are or what we do … Employers. you have got to step up. It is not an option anymore unless you are willing to take the ramifications.”

Ramifications include greater chances for accidents and bystanders — ranging from customers to other employees — getting injured if an accident is caused by an impairment that can be avoided with a clear drug policy in place.

“Don’t let your company stick their head in the sand,” she said, while talking about opioid use.

“A good (workplace drug) policy is going to be 25 to 30 pages (long),” she said, adding that it’s “a road map for what might happen,” giving employers and employees clear-cut rules and testing guidelines for what’s expected and which rules to follow, as multistate employers often must craft individual subpolicies for states in which their workers live.

Emerging marijuana laws, along with case law that forces employers to accept an employee’s off-hours behavior despite federal law that says marijuana is illegal, have created confusion for employers, she said.

“It’s kind of the Wild West right now on how to work with (marijuana laws),” she said of handling the drug’s use among employees in states where both recreational and medical marijuana is legal.

To date, 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized forms of medical marijuana, and nine states and the district have legalized recreational use, according to watchdog groups.

Companies grappling with marijuana use can look at job functions as a start, she said. Companies can say, “we are not going to put someone in a safety-sensitive position if they have a medical marijuana card; that can be an approach,” she said.

Other approaches can be pre-employment testing, which allows a company to avoid hiring an individual who tests positive for marijuana, according to Ms. Clearwater, answering a question from the audience from a human resources executive who lamented that 30% of applicants in New York test positive for marijuana, limiting the job pool.

The questioner said the company had thought about eliminating the pre-employment screening, a trend Ms. Clearwater recommended against. “The majority of your workers aren’t on drugs and deserve to work in a drug-free environment,” she said.




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