South Africa has entered the third wave of Covid-19, with an average of 17 781 new cases every day. Despite these worrisome numbers, this is no reason to forget or dismiss existing occupational health and safety obligations.
The risk of injury in accidents caused by workers that arrive under the influence should be even more evident now with media highlighting the extent to which hospital emergency, trauma and casualty wards fill up with people injured as a result of intoxication. Therefore, strict consistency in compliance with all health and safety measures is equally important in ensuring a working environment that is safe from alcohol, drugs and the Covid-19 virus.
Safety is the priority
While the alarming rise in Covid-19 infections should not be taken lightly, it’s important to remember that infection isn’t the only workplace risk that needs to be kept in mind. Currently, with businesses focusing on Covid-19 policies, workers might be getting away with safety violations that they wouldn’t have in the past.
This makes it critical for industries to continue with their normal day-to-day safety compliance checks and procedures. People may take advantage if it appears that there has been a slip in the enforcement of health and safety rules. This starts as testing the boundaries, and if left unchecked can result in a culture of non-compliance with rules and procedures that have been in place for a long time. In South Africa, we have excellent laws in place but they become irrelevant if they are not enforced on a day to day basis.
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Refreshing our perspective on safety
Where organisations are concerned about managing their risk properly throughout the pandemic, it is advisable to conduct a risk assessment of current policies and procedures. This is to see where they can be updated to take into account the new operating requirements demanded by Covid-19 regulations. This entails making some adjustments to certain procedures, but there is no reason to discard or de-prioritise any existing safety measures, like alcohol and substance abuse testing. Here, the equipment and procedures have already been updated at an industry level. This was done to factor in the increased need for social distancing and to facilitate testing for the presence of alcohol and other banned substances in a way that does not put the test subject or operator at risk unnecessarily.
The dangers of alcohol in the workplace
The impact of substance abuse on employers is enormous, costing companies millions annually in South Africa. The abuse of alcohol and substances by employees leads to increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, accidents or mistakes in the workplace with an estimated 60% of accidents in the workplace being caused by substance abuse. Criminal activities and theft at work treble as a result of substance abuse, and undetected substance abuse can cost companies up to 25% of their annual salaries bill. It’s important to highlight that substance abuse is prevalent at every level in society, and the same applies in the workplace. Regardless of seniority, position or status, substance abuse is a problem in every single industry and it must thus be addressed strictly and without prejudice. This entails having a clear policy that stipulates the company’s approach to substance testing, and this policy must be strictly and regularly enforced.
Mindful of all the risks
While it is essential to be mindful of the dangers of contracting and transmitting the Covid-19 virus, it’s just as critical to remember that the pandemic is unlikely to make substance abuse problems go away. In fact, it’s likely that addiction problems will get worse given that people are stressed and depressed. Here, companies can make an impact by ensuring that their workers are adequately protected from all occupational health and safety risks while in the workplace.