The accident: Five landscaping company employees piled into a car at 6 a.m. and began their usual one-hour carpool to work. About 10 minutes later their car veered into an oncoming lane of traffic and collided with a large pickup. Both vehicles burst into flames. All five landscaping workers and the driver of the truck died. Toxicology tests revealed the car’s driver was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.
What the expert says: Motor vehicle accidents are among the most common occupational accidents resulting from drug or alcohol use, says Elena Carr, drug policy coordinator for the U.S. Department of Labor.
“In landscaping, which involves driving to and from sites and operating large and small equipment, alcohol and drugs make fertile ground for accidents,” Carr says.
Approximately 70 percent of illicit drug users and 80 percent of heavy alcohol users are gainfully employed, and most don’t realize they have a problem, says Barb Mulhern, safety specialist for the Professional Landcare Network. Yet drug users are 3.5 times more likely than non-users to be involved in a workplace accident, and 19 percent of people who die on the job test positive for drugs or alcohol, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study. And in the landscaping industry, if you have illegal drugs or alcohol in your system, chances are you’re endangering the lives of those around you as well as your own.
Here are some signs Mulhern says indicate you have a drug or alcohol problem that is affecting job safety and performance:
- You have trouble concentrating when driving or operating equipment.
- You feel like you need a drink or drugs during your lunch break.
- You can’t go without drugs or alcohol for an extended amount of time.
- Other people tell you that you have a problem.
If you are aware you’re overusing, abusing or addicted to drugs or alcohol, you can get help without fear of losing your job. In the best-case scenario, your employer would have an Employee Assistance Program set up and phone numbers for it posted at the office. EAPs are independent agencies that refer employees with various personal or workplace problems to community resources that can help them. Everything you tell someone at an EAP is confidential.
If your company doesn’t have an EAP, you can find help by looking up alcohol or drugs in the Yellow Pages. Crisis hotlines, along with treatment centers and programs – many of them free – are listed. “The bottom line is there are resources in every community,” Mulhern says.
Ideally, your employer would recognize addiction as a disease and facilitate treatment, Carr says. To determine your employer’s position on this subject, review your company’s drug-free workplace policy. If the company doesn’t have one or if the employment policy isn’t clear, Carr advises seeking help through community organizations and asking for medical leave. TLC
Helping a coworker
Coworkers can be effective in compelling colleagues to confront their alcohol- or drug-related problems, particularly if they are willing to draw a line in the sand by no longer tolerating certain behavior, says Carr. This could mean refusing to carry the workload of a drug- or alcohol-using coworker or reporting the behavior to a supervisor who will intervene in an appropriate way.
If you’d like to try talking to your coworker first, you should do it without judgment or accusation, Carr says.
Hotlines and web resources