It's called the "opioid crisis" for good reason. More than 90 million Americans, one in four of us, use prescription opioid painkillers like OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin. Many abuse them.
With unemployment rates hovering near 4 percent, employers are facing the dilemma of either hiring people who use and may abuse opioids or not having enough people to do the work that needs to be done.
We are now approaching the holiday peak season, when logistics and supply chain operations have the highest labor demands. Facilities are hiring temporary workers in droves. With low unemployment, the pool of available workers will include people who abuse opioids and other drugs. For employers, this can lead to higher benefit costs, workers' compensation claims, and lost work time.
Assuring safe working conditions is also a huge concern. Warehouses that use forklifts and lots of mechanized systems can be dangerous places for someone whose mental awareness and physical reactions are impaired by opioids. There is similar risk in placing an opioid abuser behind the wheel of an over-the-road truck.
So how does a company find a quality work force in the midst of such a crisis and assure safety for all workers? What follows are some tips:
First, work with your legal team to establish a clear and concise drug policy. Make sure applicants understand the policy fully and then test for drug use before hiring. The National Safety Council, a nonprofit whose mission includes eliminating preventable deaths at work, suggests a 12-panel screening instead of the cheaper nine-panel tests many employers use. The expanded panel will screen for OxyContin, methadone, and fentanyl use.
Second, spend time talking to applicants. "Trust your gut. If you feel someone is hiding something, check their references thoroughly," suggests Rachael Cooper, senior program manager for substance use prevention at the National Safety Council.
Many states require employees to disclose if they are taking any impairing medications or drugs that could be a safety concern, including marijuana. Often, these people can be hired as long as they're assigned to less dangerous positions.
Most importantly, keep communication lines open. Be sure workers feel they can talk to supervisors and human resources personnel without fear of judgment.
Besides new hires, you will also encounter long-serving employees who begin taking painkillers and other medications, especially as our work forces age. How can you help them be sure their drug use does not compromise safety and performance? Glad you asked. We will address that topic next month.