New Article: Developing a Drug-Free Workplace

The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the cost of alcohol and drug abuse to American businesses is $100 billion a year.


By Michael Rich

Almost 70 percent of drug users are employed, 20 percent admit to using marijuana on the job, and more than 30 percent know of the sale of illegal drugs in the workplace. It is staggering numbers such as these pushing 90 percent of all large businesses to adopt drug-free workplace programs.

Yet despite the willingness of large corporations to embrace such programs, small to mid-sized companies, which employ 75 percent of Americans, implement these types of programs only 5 to 10 percent of the time. Here’s how to help convince management of the need for a drug-free workplace program and the steps to set up such a program.

Look at the Stats

We already know that most drug users are employed, but how do these substance abusers affect the workplace? The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the costof alcohol anddrug abusetoAmerican businessesis$100 billion a year. These costs are the result of higher absenteeism rates, lower productivity, and increased turnover. Here are a few facts on the cost of substance abuse:

  • Workers’ Compensation: 38 percent to 50 percent of all Workers’ Compensation claims are related to substance abuse in the workplace; substance abusers file three to five times as many Workers’ Compensation claims.
  • Medical Costs: Substance abusers incur 300 percent higher medical costs than non-abusers. 
  • Absenteeism: Substance abusers are 2.5 times more likely to be absent eight or more days a year.
  • Lost Productivity: Substance abusers are one-third less productive.

Program Development

Once you have convinced your employer of the benefits of a drug-free workplace, it is time to develop the program. The first step in development is to talk with employees and supervisors about the benefits of such a program and gather their input. Getting employees to buy in and comply with any new program requires the understanding and acceptance of all employees. If your company’s workers are represented by a union, the development of the policy will be a part of the collective bargaining process. A firm, compassionate program will help to provide a healthy and safe workplace for everyone.

After gathering employee input, sit down and develop the elements of the program. You will need to take into consideration your state’s laws regarding drug-free programs. Common elements you will want to incorporate into the program include:

  • A Drug and Alcohol Testing Program
  • An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for workplace substance abuse treatment
  • A Workplace Substance Abuse Recognition Training Program for Supervisors
  • A Workplace Substance Abuse Education/Awareness Program for All Employees

Next, you will need to write your company’s policy regarding drug use in the workplace. The policy should expressly prohibit the illegal use of drugs and/or abuse of alcohol by any employee and spell out the consequences of policy violations.

Once you have developed the program, you will need to host training, distribute the new policy to all employees, and post notifications of your drug free program.

If you need help with the development of this program, e-mail

Michael Rich is a safety writer and researcher for Safety Services Company, a supplier of safety training materials in North America. To learn more about the safety solutions it offers, visit