Cat! This simple word used to be only synonymous with a small, cuddlable pet, or even the brand of a big machine or a protective shoe.
But nowadays when one talks of katse, the first thing that comes to mind is the drug Kat, a stimulant that is becoming more popular among young adults. Other popular and readily available drugs are weed, which can be disguised as a cup cake (space cake), and cocaine, with street names such as grandpa.
One might wonder why we are even bothered by what our employees do in their recreational space. Are we not infringing on their rights? Substances, whether it is alcohol, cigarettes or illicit drugs, have an effect in the workplace when overused. This is of concern to any employer, especially where alertness, accuracy and quick reflexes are required.
For example, cognitive impairment in a surgeon, a long-distance truck driver or a heavy machine operator can result in fatal incidents. For many users it starts as one or two for the experience. For some the choice is because of easy access, either from other workers who sell during work time or from dealers/food hawkers found around the workspace.
We sometimes see high performers such as doctors, lawyers, academics, engineers and accountants falling into this trap, either to cope with the high work demands, irregular shifts or simply because they have the money and are easy targets for dealers. Drug use can also provide a false good feeling for those dealing with social stressors such as a divorce, debt and grief. This can eventually lead to addiction and substance use disorder, which is a medical diagnosis.
While managers and supervisors’ roles are not to diagnose any worker with substance use disorder, they can be trained to spot some of the signs and refer accordingly. The signs include:
- Absenteeism or excessive use of sick days, especially after weekends and around public holidays.
- Frequent disappearance from the worksite without explanation
- Mood swings and work performance that alternates between high and low productivity
- Deterioration in personal hygiene, sometimes with unexplainable bloodshot eyes.
- Lying and frequent talk about money shortages
- Irritability, even violence towards colleagues
Effects on the workplace may include repeated errors in judgement or bad decisions, accidents and injuries, difficulty in recalling instructions, and unreliability in meeting deadlines and honouring appointments. Such workers can also steal money from the organisation or from team members to feed their addiction.
Legally, a workplace is expected to reasonably accommodate the employee and assist them to perform optimally before opting for dismissal. Therefore, the following can be put in place to prevent or deal with substance abuse in the workplace:
- Develop and implement an alcohol and drugs policy
This should take into consideration ethical and legal requirements. It should be for all employees, including management. The policy can speak to treatment, referrals, discipline, and so on. Every employee must be made aware of this on appointment.
- Training and education programme
Employees and management must be trained on the effects of drugs and how to spot a user. The worker should be referred to experts such as doctors and psychologists for diagnosis and fitness to work assessments.
- Drug testing programme
A policy guideline should be developed and must consider conditions of service, job descriptions, consent and other legal requirements. Drug use does affect your bottom line. We can therefore help you with strategies that encourage your workers to aim high but not be high.
*Dr Tawana is a registered Occupational Health and Safety Specialist and chairs the National Compensation Board. She was a Global Medical expert in the development of ISO 45003- Guidelines for managing Psychosocial Risks in the Workplace
Contact her for OHS solutions at email@example.com. 3935008/ 73241411.