Drug abuse is causing lost productivity, endangering lives and increasing healthcare costs for businesses big and small across the country.

It’s a problem wreaking havoc in corporate America. It’s causing lost productivity, endangering lives and increasing healthcare costs for businesses big and small across the country. The problem is drug abuse in the workplace.

The U. S. Department of Labor estimates that drug abuse in the workplace costs American business and industry between $75-$100 billion annually in lost time, accidents and increased healthcare and workers’ compensation costs. A New Jersey plumbing firm, though, is fighting back, one of the hundreds of smaller businesses across the country attempting to take the problem into their own hands.

For two years, Giberson Plumbing and Excavating (GPE) of Shamong, NJ, a commercial plumbing and excavating company employing 12 people, has had a drug-free workplace program. Although such programs are now mandated by the Department of Transportation for companies that, like GPE, employ drivers, GPE’s program actually goes further than the DOT’s directive. The company’s program was expanded to cover all employees. “Drug and alcohol abuse simply is not tolerated at GPE,” says Marie Giberson, the company’s president. “Our employees have a right to work in an environment free of drug or alcohol abusing co-workers. It’s safer, more efficient and clearly a smart business move.”

Giberson maintains that the company’s employees have bought into the program. “Most of our people have been with us for a tremendously long time,” she said. “I just tell them ‘you’re getting screened,’ and they go.”

GPE tests its employees randomly and after any accidents. Pre-employment testing is also conducted. In two years, no one has tested positive.

“Vigilance is the key,” Giberson said of the company’s record of no positive drug tests. “You can never let down your guard. Clearly, we’re happy that our employees take themselves and their jobs seriously enough to not mess around with drugs. But we’re in this for the long term.”

Most larger companies have already taken anti-drug abuse steps. But the reality is that 80 percent of America’s workforce is employed in small businesses like GPE. And few of them have anti-drug policies or programs. In fact, only 3 percent of companies with fewer than 100 employees nationwide conduct drug tests.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, because the anti-drug programs in place in larger companies are meeting with some success, drug abusing workers are now seeking employment in smaller firms.

But there are signs of change. “Smaller companies like GPE are getting much more involved,” says Beth Lindamood, senior marketing analyst and coordinator of the drug-free workplace task force at Great American Insurance Companies. “Businesses of all sizes are now seeing the depth of the drug abuse problem and how it affects their own bottom lines. In the past, smaller firms shied away from proactive programs because they didn’t recognize the scope of the drug problem or just plain didn’t understand how to combat it.”

The workplace drug issue is very real, says Lindamood. She notes that three-quarters of the 11.7 million drug abusers in America are employed either full or part-time in our country’s workforce. And they are absent from work three times more often than employees who are non-users; are three-to-four times more likely to be involved in an on the-job accident, injuring themselves or a co-worker; and file five times as many workers’ compensation claims.

“By adopting a drug-free workplace program,” says Lindamood, “small and medium size businesses are not only discouraging abuse among the current workforce but also dissuading potential abusers from coming to work for them in the first place.”

Looking ahead, Lindamood believes such drug-free workplace programs for companies like GPE will become more important and necessary than ever before. As was reported recently by the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, the use of drugs among 12-17-year-olds rose 78 percent from 1992-1995 — a dangerous prediction of the workforce to come.

Maintaining a Drug-Free Workplace: According to guidelines published by the National Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (NAPHCC), a straight-forward working definition of a drug-free workplace is “The absence of legal and/or illegal drugs or their effects in the workplace.” Period. No exceptions. NAPHCC provides four basic guidelines which, if followed by owners, managers and employees, will guarantee a drug-free environment:

  • Never engage in the unauthorized use, possession, manufacture, distribution or sale of alcohol, drugs or related paraphernalia while on the job.
  • Never perform any job duties while under the influence of — or while impaired from the use of — any drugs. This includes being adversely affected by prescription drugs that may cause a safety risk to you, a fellow employee, a business client or the general public.
  • Always inform your supervisor if you are taking prescription drugs or other medication that may impact on your ability to fulfill your job tasks in a safe and productive manner.
  • Never possess, use, manufacture, distribute or sell alcohol or drugs off the job that may adversely affect your work performance, the safety of others at work or the reputation of the business in the community.

Tips on following these guidelines and setting up a successful drug prevention program are available from NAPHCC, 800/533-7694. Also providing assistance to small contractors is Great American Insurance Companies, which offers a 5 percent workers’ compensation credit in states that allow it, 513/369-5000.