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September 30, 2010  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Proactive Employers Keep Operations Substance-Free

Pupil transportation officials have a zero-tolerance attitude toward on-the-job drug and alcohol use, and staff members undergo testing frequently. Experts say that understanding the effects of these substances and learning how to recognize signs of abuse are integral to maintaining a safe workplace.

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Karen Joyce, clinical director for SAP Referral Services LLC, says the most visual indicator of substance use or abuse is changes in a person’s usual behavior, including changes in appearance and job performance.

Learn about the effects of drugs and alcohol  
Officials at MCAS and Beach Transportation review their substance abuse policies with all employees.

Karen Joyce, clinical director at SAP (Substance Abuse Professional) Referral Services LLC in Baltimore, says  sharing this kind of information and reviewing what’s expected of employees is essential to establishing a drug-free workplace.

Also, information should be provided on how substances affect a person’s ability to perform his or her job. This is true of prescription and over-the-counter medication as well as alcohol and illicit drugs.

“If someone’s taking a sleep aid or medication for a cough or pain, he or she can be fatigued and have a slow response time,” Joyce says. “When medication is taken and the time that the person is expected to start working must be taken into consideration.”

Sgt. Bruce Talbot, a retired police officer and founder of drug recognition training provider Bruce R. Talbot Associates in Bolingbrook, Ill., points to more severe side effects of over-the-counter drugs.

“Dextromethorphan is found in 164 cough and cold preparations. It causes hallucinations, a drunken-like effect and an out-of-body experience at high doses,” he says.

More generally, Joyce says that if the drug that someone is abusing is a stimulant (like cocaine), he or she may have increased energy and exhibit nervousness. Even caffeine and energy drinks, when consumed at high levels, can affect a person’s judgment and work pace, Joyce says.

Taking depressants (such as marijuana) or consuming substances that have a depressant-like effect (such as alcohol) may result in slow movements and a slow response time.

For more information on the effects of specific drugs, see the list on pg. 4 of this feature.

Look for signs of substance use or abuse
In conjunction with learning how drugs and alcohol can affect employees’ performance, pupil transportation officials should be aware of symptoms of substance abuse.

Joyce says the primary thing supervisors should look for is changes in employees’ usual behavior. This comprises changes in the quality of their work along with changes in their appearance, including:
•    Problems following directions
•    Difficulty problem solving
•    Unexplained absences
•    Frequent on-the-job accidents
•    Inappropriate laughter or responses
•    Mood swings or paranoia
•    Red eyes or severely dilated or constricted pupils
•    An unsteady gait or slurred speech

Both Joyce and Schafer note the importance of not jumping to conclusions if an employee exhibits any of these signs.

“Supervisors need to be cautious that it’s not due to another condition,” Joyce says. “Approach the person in a supportive way and let them know that you’re concerned because it’s not typical for them.”

Moreover, Schafer says that symptoms must be taken into consideration with other factors. If a person’s eyes are red, it may not mean that he or she is impaired. If, however, a person’s eyes are red, he or she has an unsteady gait, and he or she has been in an accident, it could warrant sending the person in for a reasonable suspicion drug test.

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