The ECA Safety Forum is joining with the National Safety Council (NSC) in bringing awareness to the expanding issue of ‘workplace impairment.’ Impairment comes in numerous forms with controlled substances and mental health contributing to its severity. 

In its most recent review, the NSC now defines impairment more fully as the inability to function normally or safely as a result of a number of factors – from chemical substances (e.g., alcohol, opioids, cannabis), physical factors (e.g., fatigue and certain medical conditions), social factors (e.g., professional and other stressors) and mental distress (e.g., related illness and other factors).

Impairment has been a workplace safety issue for decades. The NSC however points out that the pandemic forced a new era of workplace safety, one where employers are grappling with increased substance use and misuse as well as increased mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety – medical conditions that are frequently interrelated.

In particular, the pandemic has worsened the country’s overdose crisis, which has been challenging employers for several years. In 2021, there were an estimated 107,000 overdose deaths – the highest number ever recorded.

Survey Examines Trends

In 2020, the NSC conducted a national employer survey on impairment resulting in some surprising findings:

  • 93% of respondents agree with the NSC’s expanded definition of impairment 
  • Over 90% said they are concerned about alcohol, opioids, mental health disorders and chronic stress in their workplaces.
  • 52% said impairment is decreasing the safety of their workforce 
  • 77% viewed impairment as an important consideration when determining an employee’s fitness for duty, but an alarming 13% claimed impairment was not an important consideration when determining fitness for duty.
  • 70% said they discuss substance impairment during employee onboarding, but only 47% said they discuss other forms of impairment, such as fatigue, mental health and stress.
  • 45% said impairment is causing more near misses.
  • 39% said impairment is causing more injuries.

Visit www.nsc.org/impairment to get additional details on recognizing the signs of impairment and the latest resources.

By Garrett Francis, ECA President Email: [email protected]