DRUG-FREE WORKPLACES – The top five ways to identify drugs in your workforce

In February 20205 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 11, 2020

The upcoming vote on legalising recreational cannabis and plans for random roadside testing have made identifying drug issues a priority for many transport and logistics operators. We‘ve heard from many companies concerned about the effects these public policies will have on their staff – and they all want to know the same thing. How do I spot a high-risk employee abusing drugs and alcohol before it becomes a problem? TDDA teaches managers to recognise and deal with drugs in the workplace. We teach people to recognise the signs of abuse, what drug paraphernalia looks like, and how to deal with someone under the influence. Here are five things to look out for:

Changes in attendance
People with drug and alcohol issues miss more days of work per year than their sober counterparts. Users often have punctuality issues too. Look for regular, and longer than average, breaks or trips out of the office or truck cab. These may indicate usage during work. Scan for patterns; if they‘re always late after payday there‘s a good chance they are topping up drug supplies and in a high usage period.

Performance issues
If an employee‘s performance drops off or fluctuates, you may have a drug issue. For example, a drug user may fill in logbooks well at the beginning of the week but poorly on Thursday and Friday as they get closer to the weekend. People can be groggy, slower, forgetful, and won‘t operate at the same level as a sober colleague. If your fleet has vehicle monitoring, look for poor driving, braking, or swerving behaviours on your telematics software. Check for reccurring minor incidents. We recommend drug and alcohol tests in cases where there is an incident or a near miss.

Erratic behaviour and overreactions
Look for emotional sensitivity, angry outbursts, and being defensive to constructive or mild criticism. Also notice mood swings and rapid changes in attitude. Drugs are linked with anger, anxiety, and depression, amongst other symptoms. Pay particular attention to drivers who are reported frequently by road users for poor driving or outbursts. Many managers are inadequately trained or prepared to deal with employees presenting these symptoms, particularly symptoms involving aggression. Aggressive behaviours are challenging to deal with and can quickly spiral out of control. Have a plan to manage a suspected drug-related incident.

Visual clues
Someone abusing drugs and alcohol may leave drug paraphernalia like pipes, baggies, and prescription blister packs in plain view. There are also symptoms to recognise. Notice if a worker has had rapid weight loss. Take note if their pupils are very constricted or very dilated; both are signs of drug use. If they are visibly shaky or have a loss of balance, testing for drug use is recommended. In 2019, TDDA detected increasing use of opioids in the transport and logistics industry. This includes illegal drugs such as heroin, opium and fentanyl, and prescription medications such as morphine, oxycodone, codeine and tramadol. Drowsiness, confusion, a lack of concentration, and nausea may indicate opiate use. Whether doctor-prescribed or illegally obtained, people should not operate vehicles or equipment while using opiates.

Professional training
Find an accredited drug-testing organisation like TDDA and get certified in a verified drug identification programme. Select a programme that provides techniques to help transport and logistics supervisors make informed decisions – and builds their confidence. It should identify behaviours that indicate recent drug and alcohol use and keep pace with drug market trends. The programme should train a manager to appropriately address a suspected drug-related situation safely. A poorly handled situation can escalate into a personal grievance. Transport managers need the skills and confidence to deal with potentially delicate and volatile situations that arise when confronting an employee showing signs of drug and alcohol abuse. A trained manager will help keep your fleet on the road, your company compliant with the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, and keep you out of legal proceedings.