Impairment at Work

Posted by Melissa Hall in #YHSafetyTips, May 29, 2019

Each year, employers lose billions of dollars due to low productivity, accidents, tardiness, absent workers, and mistakes on the job due to drug and alcohol abuse problems. In every industry, employees need to be focused and non-impaired to stay safe.

Risks of impairment stem from the use of alcohol, opioids and heroin, marijuana, and prescription or over the counter medications. Emotional impairment is also a serious risk - stress and anxiety from your your job or home life can affect your focus on the job.

Impairment Risks:

  • Loss of sleep from impairment, even missing even a few hours of sleep can affect your ability to drive.
  • Prescription drugs including opioids can impair your ability to work and drive. Before starting a new prescription, ask your doctor about how the drug might affect your ability to work.
  • Any form of marijuana or cannabis can affect your ability to work. Even if it is legal in your state, you should be aware of your employer’s policy regarding its use.
  • Impairment begins with your first drink. Do not try to work through impairment from alcohol.


The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that approximately 1 in 13 working adults has an alcohol use disorder and almost 1 in 4 people over the age of 12 reported binge drinking in the past month. Long work hours, shift work, and those in the hospitality, manufacturing, emergency personnel, and healthcare industries are at increased risk for alcohol use disorders.

Employees with alcohol use disorders miss more days than other workers and are more likely to experience workplace injuries. Employers should include a plan for screening, intervention, and referral to treatment in their health plan to encourage workers with an alcohol use disorder to reach out for help.


The legalization and changing public opinions on the use of marijuana has become an issue for employers. Nearly 2% of working adults are dependent on marijuana.

Short term side effects of marijuana include impaired coordination, difficulty thinking and problem-solving, memory problems, and an altered sense of time. Marijuana use has been linked to increased accidents & injuries, absenteeism, and worker compensation claims. There is no safe level of THC for workers who drive on the job or workers who drive or operate heavy machinery.

As the laws regarding the use of marijuana change, employers must remain up to date on the laws and adjust company policies accordingly. Employee education programs should be offered to focus on educating staff on issues with marijuana in the workplace.

Opioids and Heroin

Workers in the construction and extraction business represent 15.6% of employees with a substance abuse disorder. Prescription pain medication disorders are most commonly found among those in the services industry and those living in rural locations.

Studies show that drug misuse led to a 17% reduction in productivity for men and an 18% reduction in productivity for women and can result in more frequent absence and job turnover.

Employers should educate themselves and employees about the risks of impairment to help them steer clear of substances that could cause impairment while encouraging a safe work environment.

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