Keynote speaker on day two of the Cayman Captive Forum was Robert Stutman, retired US Drug Enforcement Agent and consultant on drug abuse. His powerful presentation on the state of the drug problem in today’s America highlighted the scourge of drugs in the workplace and the risk implications for employers. Although the stats were all US-based, his words still had grave implications for business here in Cayman. Business Editor, Lindsey Turnbull reports. Second and concluding part in a series.
With a substantial number of drugs and alcohol addicts employed in the workplace in the US, employers need to take serious note of the issue. Robert Stutman said: “92 per cent of alcoholics in the States are employed; 72 per cent of drug addicts have jobs.”
Only stupid people do drugs
In a bid to dispel the myth that drugs are not ever taken by those intelligent enough to know better, Stutman recanted the true story of a well known CEO in the US with whom he had become acquainted, whose sons were both addicted to drugs.
“One son is a recovering OxyContin addict. The other was an outstanding Medical School graduate addicted to alcohol and cocaine. This son wrote to his father continually denying that he was still taking drugs, pretending that he had beaten his addiction. He eventually died of a cardiac arrest through taking drugs. I think he thought, as a Med School graduate, that he could control his addiction,” Stutman recalled.
He added that when young people, such as in this case, die from drugs it was always a mistake. “They are not suicidal; they die accidentally because they believe they are in control,” he said.
In the workplace
The statistics out of the US are alarming: 17 per cent of those in the workforce, or one in six workers, are substance abusers, according to Stutman.
“Employers simply cannot afford to take the popular stance, which is ‘None of them work for me,’” he confirmed.
35 per cent of all workplace accidents in the US are caused by substance abuse and it has a directly detrimental effect on business, causing absenteeism, accidents and violence in the workplace.
And according to Stutman, when reports are filed after such an incident, employers need to be very careful as to how they investigate and record the incident for insurance purposes.
He stated, “All too often when employers undertake post-accident drug tests on their employees they make the mistake of testing the injured party, rather than the employee who caused the accident in the first place.”
Number one cause of accidents
The consumption of beer in the workplace tops the list as the number one cause of accidents, said Stutman.
“People drink beer at work as if it is a different flavoured Dr Pepper soda, forgetting that it is in fact alcohol!”
Marijuana is the top drug to cause workplace accidents. A harmful side effect of the consumption of this drug is its ability to lessen pressure on the optic nerve – fine if you happen to suffer from glaucoma – but harmful to the user’s sight if not. This is because depth perception can be lost up to 48 hours after the user stops smoking the drug.
“This has the possibility of causing huge problems for anyone who has smoked a joint, say, over the weekend and who turns up for work on Monday morning still suffering from the side effects. Anyone who gets behind the wheel of a car or other vehicle or needs stable hand/eye co-ordination is putting themselves and others at risk.”
The risks to employers
Stutman cited the case of the Exxon Valdez oil spillage disaster which he said, “set the standard. The company took a US$7 billion hit because they weren’t aware that the captain of the ship was drinking while in charge of the ship.”
Companies need to show that they try their best to ensure that their organisations are drug and alcohol free if they are to comply with insurance requirements in the States.
Stutman said thus could be done by ensuring training takes place for all staff as to the effects of drugs and alcohol and properly documenting that the training takes place.
Employers need to show that they went to the furthest lengths possible to prevent an employee from drinking or taking drugs if they have a reasonable suspicion that such an activity has taken place.
Companies must also take responsibility for their employees drinking on the job at functions and parties, if those events are considered part of the employee’s job. In the case of sales people whose job it is to entertain clients, this may mean placing a limit on how much can be spent on alcohol consumption.
At the end of his presentation, Stutman shared his personal reasons for his crusade against drugs. Stutman used to be a law enforcement agent in Florida. He told the story of his colleague, a brilliant detective who had worked on bringing Manuel Noriega to justice, and who was also a notorious alcoholic. One night after a policeman’s ball the detective became drunk and violent and Stutman said he sent the detective’s junior partner to drive him home. In the detective’s drunken state he became aggressive and ended up shooting his young partner to death. Stutman says the guilt over sending the young policeman to drive the aggressive detective home in the first place will live with him forever, but the tragedy also galvanised him into this personal crusade to try and make a difference.