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National Safety Month: Week 2’s Resources for Workplace Impairment

Toby Graham /

As we continue our celebration of National Safety Month, we want to bring your attention to the very important topic of impairment. We all know the dangers of substance use on the job. But did you know mental distress, stress, and fatigue are also impairing?

The National Safety Council defines impairment as

“The inability to function normally or safely as a result of a number of factors – from chemical substances (e.g., alcohol, opioids, cannabis), physical factors (e.g., fatigue and certain medical conditions), social factors (e.g., professional and other stressors) and mental distress (e.g., related illness and other factors).”

The Obvious Form of Impairment: Substance Abuse

I’m going to throw some data at you. Get ready!

The typical worker misses three work weeks (15 days) annually for illness, injury or reasons other than vacation and holidays. Workers with substance use disorders, however, miss two more weeks annually than their peers, averaging nearly five weeks (24.6 days) a year. (source)

A survey focused on opioids in the workplace found:

  • Over 75% of employers have been affected in some way by employee opioid use, with 38% experiencing impacts related to absenteeism or impaired worker performance
  • While employee training and education is a main driver of preparedness, only 28% of employers offer opioid-specific training and education to their workforce

The Less Obvious Forms of Impairment…

I recently sat in on a presentation at a recent NSC on the topic of worker impairment, and it brought to light how broad this issue can be. When you think about it, would you want one of these people behind the wheel of a forklift?

  • Someone whose newborn baby has kept them up for days (I’ve been there, it’s not fun.)
  • Someone who took a new allergy medicine that made them waaay more drowsy than they were expecting (been there too – thank goodness I don’t drive forklifts!)
  • Someone who’s spending their off-work time supporting a family member with a significant illness, or experiencing one themselves.

Employers spend an annual average of:

  • $3,500 per employee for an untreated sleep disorder
  • $8,817 per employee for an untreated substance abuse disorder
  • $15,000 per employee for an employee experiencing mental distress

While we all may experience impairment in different ways, the takeaway is universal: We need to create a culture where employees are empowered to speak up if they feel unable to safely perform their tasks due to impairment.

Safety Meeting Topics Focusing on Workplace Impairment

Looking for a topic this week? This is a great time to cover

Need more ideas for safety talks? We’ve got 21 of em!

More Resources to Recognize the Signs and Address Impairment, in All its Forms

This article lines out the components of a best-in-class substance abuse program backed by extensive research

A deep dive into many types of impairment

Opioids and the workforce

Safety+Health’s podcast on workplace impairment:

In case you missed it, here’s what we’re covering each week of National Safety Month:

Week 1: Musculoskeletal Disorders

Week 2: Workplace Impairment

Week 3: Injury Prevention

Week 4: Slips, Trips, and Falls

Catch all the posts here >>

Stay safe out there!

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