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Tom Woods is a substance-abuse expert and founder of Bethesda, Maryland-based Workforce Recovery Solutions LLC, which helps human resources executives and employers tackle substance abuse in the workforce. He has developed Workforce Recovery Solutions, which aims to create tailored education programs to increase employee awareness and offering solutions regarding the use of alcohol, opioids, marijuana and other drugs in the workforce. In October he was a presenter at the National Safety Council Congress & Expo in Houston, speaking on what more employers can do to manage the drug risk in the field. He recently spoke with Business Insurance Reporter Louise Esola about drug use and abuse in the workforce and how employers can better help workers. Edited excerpts follow.
Q: What systems are typically in place when it comes to companies managing the drug risk among employees, and where are employers falling short?
A: I call it the check-the-box system …Where employers are falling short is if you don’t get out of this world of denial and know that you have a problem and update your policies. You all are still giving the most antiquated, ridiculous 10-panel drug tests. If you Google how to pass the drug test … (you’ll find) there’s a thousand companies out there that will sell you different combinations of drugs that you can take and pass a drug test — from marijuana to opiates to you name it. These people using these antiquated drug testing that say, ‘Oh well he’s clean, well he’s not.’ …The first step is admitting it’s likely you have employees that are doing drugs.
Q: What about drug policies?
A: They need to be changed. To replace an employee (who tests positive for drugs), to fire an employee for a first-time event, I say you do it by a case-by-case basis. You don’t make this a blanket statement … It is three to five times more expensive to replace an employee on a factory floor than it is to get them treatment and give them a second chance and let them come back, to retrain. For (human resources) to go out and have to do the whole interview process, all that stuff, I mean it’s way more expensive to find somebody new to replace them.
Q: Regarding construction and other physically demanding jobs, anecdotally workers are sometimes reluctant to admit an injury and instead will take medications and work while in pain. Is this something that companies need to be more concerned about?
A: With opiates, people can be on opiates all day long. Opiate addiction, any kind of addiction, when it gets far enough down the line … when they need to have enough oxycodone or Oxycontin in them (to work) and they don’t want to lose their job because they need the paycheck, it’s really dangerous. And my answer to that is, would you want a surgeon operating on you or an accountant doing your taxes or a lawyer defending you if you knew they were on opiates? And of course, the answer is no.
Q: What about impairment training for employers to identify workers who are impaired? Is that anything that employers can explore?
A: That’s one of the things we do. What does drug addiction really look like? You know, a guy doesn’t have to be stumbling around the floor for him to be a drug addict … There’s no right, one answer for any employer. But if you don’t start with educating yourself and educating your managers on what to look for and look at your drug policy to see how up-to-date it is, and what kind of drug testing are you doing — you know, that’s the stuff you can get help with.
Geoff Delisio is a senior vice president at Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Co., where he heads the Boston-based insurer’s surety operations. An engineer by training, he has worked in the surety sector for nearly two decades. He recently spoke with Business Insurance Editor Gavin Souter about trends in the construction industry and the surety market.