Managing Workplace Substance Misuse

The Buzz About SAP Processes

EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) have traditionally been the go-to, one-stop resource when it comes to workplace health. However, when it comes to workplace safety—reducing risks of unproductivity, injury, fatality and liability—there is a growing recognition that (SAP) Substance Abuse Professional processes may provide greater value. While EAP and SAP may share some roots, there are differences that employers should clearly understand.

Opportunities to prevent unnecessary injury and fatality occur regularly on worksites; yet how employers capitalize on these opportunities varies. When an employee presents at work not fit for duty due to substance use or impairment, self-discloses struggles with alcohol or drugs, or fails an alcohol or drug test (pre-employment, pre-access, post-incident or near miss, random, follow-up/unannounced, or reasonable suspicion), utilizing a SAP instead of (or in addition to EAP) can provide a framework for both the employer and employee next steps without compromising safety.

EAP has long been and continues to be a critical employee service that is accessed voluntarily and confidentially for employees to get professional help for a wide range of stressors. Unlike EAP professionals, SAPs are specifically trained to protect workplace safety by assessing employees and determining whether they meet criteria for a SUD (Substance Use Disorder). They also make recommendations concerning specific and appropriate substance misuse education, treatments, aftercare and follow-up testing. This framework helps to ensure employees get the right type and intensity of intervention and allows employers to demonstrate due process which can close otherwise open gaps for potential liability, litigation and grievances.

Due to the voluntary and client-centred nature of EAP, matters of confidentiality often keep employers in the dark regarding an employee’s progress as the employee controls the flow of information. This is especially evident as some professional disciplines are bound by ethical dictates that limit the amount of information shared even in mandatory referral situations. This can lead to uncertainty and employers often have no assurance that an employee is getting substance misuse-specific help, nor assurance that an employee is any safer to return to work. Alternatively, SAPs are safety-centred, and their processes and compliance are mandatory. This increases employee motivation for participation and gives the employer assurance regarding safety and confidence to take next steps. With the SAP process, should employees not comply or fail to complete recommendations, an employer has more legal options available for discipline up to termination.

The Workers Compensation Board of Saskatchewan (WCB), states that the average number of annual workplace fatalities in Saskatchewan over the last 15 years is 37, and the average number of serious injuries each year over that period is 2,400. While there are certainly many potential factors involved in causation, a portion will be directly or indirectly related to substance misuse. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, roughly 12 per cent of Canadians have a SUD (Substance Use Disorder), yet less than one per cent ever access help. This may be due to the stigma around substance misuse, psychological health disorders, and/or insufficient employer processes in managing these situations. A much larger percentage of the working population without a SUD may also report to work unfit for duty, which can be commonly overlooked, neglected, or mismanaged. For true prevention, it is vital that these situations be identified and effectively addressed earlier to prevent future unproductivity, injury and long-term costs.

Many employers may still be operating without defined alcohol and drug policies and processes to manage these situations. Employers that do have a policy may still be overly reliant on traditional practices and resources or terminate employees without due process risking litigation and grievances. In an ever-changing and evolving world of safety and labour law, and with what is at stake, utilizing SAP processes can be very advantageous. Every employee deserves to go home safe and sound. This means employers must have the ability to help employees with physical, psychological, or substance related struggles without compromising safety.

Scott Heil, ICADC, CCAC, SAP/SAE at 2BSure (scott@2bsure.ca) is a Qualified Substance Abuse Professional.