Positive Workforce Drug Tests Reach 10-Year High

An analysis of 11 million workforce drug tests reveals a 10-year high in positive test results, with an increase of 4%, according to the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index (DTI). Post-accident positivity increased 6.2% in 2015, compared to 2014, and has jumped 30% since 2011.

The report found that amphetamine positivity increased 44% and marijuana positivity increased 26% since 2011; and that nearly half (45%) of individuals in the general U.S. workforce with a positive drug test for any substance in 2015 showed evidence of marijuana use.

Heroin positivity in that period increased 146%. The oxycodone positivity rate has declined annually since 2011, confirming previous research showing that opioid prescriptions have declined in 49 states since 2012, Quest said.

“The DTI statistics for the last five years underscore the threat to employers—and employees—from drug abusers in our workplace. The numbers on hair testing—the methodology with the longest look-back and therefore a more telling measurement of regular use—show a 34% positive-rate increase for illegal drug use by the general workforce in the last five years,” Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace, said in a statement. “However, all the numbers for various testing methodologies confirm this disturbing trend and should provide a wake-up call to employers to do more to combat workplace substance abuse and to do it more effectively.”

Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics, noted:

  • The percentage of employees in the combined U.S. workforce testing positive for drugs has steadily increased over the last three years to a 10-year high of 4.0%.
  • According to analysis of urine drug test results, the rate of amphetamine, marijuana, and heroin detection has increased annually for the past five years.
  • Positivity rates for post-accident urine drug testing are rising in both the general U.S. and federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforces; rates have increased 30% and 22%, respectively, since 2011.
  • Almost half (45%) of individuals in the general U.S. workforce with a positive drug test for any substance in 2015 showed evidence of marijuana.
  • Heroin positivity, indicated by the presence of the 6-AM marker, increased 146 percent between 2011 and 2015 in the general U.S. workforce.
  • The overall positivity rate for oral fluid testing increased 47% over the last three years in the general U.S. workforce—equating to almost one in 11 job applicants who are unable to pass an oral fluid drug screen.
  • Overall positivity in the general U.S. workforce was highest in hair drug tests, at 10.3% in 2015, a 7% increase over the previous year.

Protecting Workers from Sun Exposure

sun workers
The number of skin cancer cases in the United States continues to increase, with nearly 5 million people treated for it every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Outdoor workers are especially at risk, as they are constantly exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays, even on cloudy days when they may think they are safe from the sun.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), UV rays, which are a part of sunlight, are an invisible form of radiation. There are three types of UV rays: UVA, which is believed to CDC advicedamage connective tissue and increase the risk for developing skin cancer; UVB, which doesn’t penetrate as deeply into the skin, but can still cause some types of skin cancer; and natural UVC, which is absorbed by the atmosphere and does not pose a risk.

One of the dangers of being out in the sun for prolonged periods is that sunburn is not immediately apparent, NIOSH said. Symptoms usually start about 4 hours after sun exposure, worsen in 24 to 36 hours, and get better in 3 to 5 days. They include red, tender and swollen skin, blisters, headache, fever, nausea and fatigue. Another danger is that eyes can also become sunburned. They become red, dry, painful and feel gritty. Chronic eye exposure can cause permanent damage, including blindness.

The CDC advises organizations to add sun safety to their workplace policies and training programs, as well as to:Include sun-safety information in workplace wellness programs. For example, programs designed to help employees avoid heat illness can be adapted to include information about sun safety.
• Teach outdoor workers about risks of exposure to UV radiation and the signs and symptoms of overexposure.
• Encourage outdoor workers to be role models and discuss the importance of sun protection with clients, and coworkers. Visit the National Cancer Institute’s RTIPs website for more information about sun safety.

NIOSH’s advice to workers:

Protect Yourself

  • Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun when possible.
  • Wear sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15.
    • SPF refers to how long a person will be protected from a burn. (SPF 15 means a person can stay in the sun 15-times longer before burning.) SPF only refers to UVB protection.
    • To protect against UVA, look for products containing: Mexoryl, Parsol 1789, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone.
    • Sunscreen performance is affected by wind, humidity, perspiration, and proper application.
    • Throw away sunscreens after 1–2 years (they lose potency).
    • Apply liberally (minimum of 1 oz.) at least 20 minutes before sun exposure.
    • Apply to ears, scalp, lips, neck, tops of feet, and backs of hands.
    • Reapply at least every two hours and each time a person gets out of the water or perspires heavily.
    • Some sunscreens may lose their effectiveness when applied with insect repellents. You may need to reapply more often.
  • Wear clothing with a tight weave or high-SPF clothing.
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses with UV protection and side panels.
  • Take breaks in shaded areas.

First Aid

  • Take aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to relieve pain, headache, and fever.
  • Drink plenty of water to help replace fluid losses.
  • Comfort burns with cool baths or the gentle application of cool wet cloths.
  • Avoid further exposure until the burn has resolved.
  • Use of a topical moisturizing cream, aloe, or 1% hydrocortisone cream may provide additional relief.

If blistering occurs:

  • Lightly bandage or cover the area with gauze to prevent infection.
  • Do not break blisters. (This slows healing and increases risk of infection.)
  • When the blisters break and the skin peels, dried skin fragments may be removed and an antiseptic ointment or hydrocortisone cream may be applied.

Seek medical attention if any of the following occur:

  • Severe sunburns covering more than 15% of the body
  • Dehydration
  • High fever (greater than 101 °F)
  • Extreme pain that persists for longer than 48 hours

Employee Financial Stress Can Impact Job Performance

Employees stressed out by financial problems could be suffering from lack of sleep and are more prone to depression, heart issues and substance abuse than those with low levels of stress, according to a new study. This anxiety can also impact the workplace in the form of lost productivity, heightened risk of on-the-job accidents and absenteeism.

Most employees worry about their personal finances, with 25% of those surveyed indicating high or overwhelming financial stress. About one-third were assessed as vulnerable to living beyond their means and having serious debt, according to this year’s Stress in America survey, commissioned by the American Psychological Association.

The survey found that:

  • Nine percent of millennial women under age 30 reported overwhelming financial stress compared to 5% of their male counterparts.
  • Lower-income males (making under $60,000 a year) were more likely than lower-income females to report no financial stress, at 13% versus 9%.
  • Women’s stress levels seem to be impacted by the presence of minor children in the household, with 11% of women with minor children reporting overwhelming levels of stress, compared to only 6% without children. Men’s stress levels seem to not be significantly impacted by the presence of minor children, as only 6% of men with children in their household reported overwhelming levels of financial stress, compared to 4% of men without children.

Treatment for financial stress is becoming more common in the workplace. According to a report by Aon Hewitt, 89% of employers are very or moderately likely to implement or expand programs to help employees better manage their money as part of their overall benefits package. The report finds that sleep programs, financial counseling and personal coaching can help stressed employees.

Issues resulting from financial stress include:

Zika and the Olympics: Business Travel Risks

The Zika virus, and its presumed association with serious birth defects and a paralytic neurological disorder, poses an unusual problem for business leaders and risk managers. While the virus is not currently being spread by mosquitoes in the U.S., Brazil is an important destination for many U.S. business travelers, which will only increase in the build-up to this summer’s Olympic Games. For many companies, health and safety concerns are top priorities, but travel to Brazil may be a business necessity. Before making decisions around these two opposing drives, it is vital that risk managers and business leaders weigh the facts around Zika.

The Risk to Employees

Brazil ranks in the top 10 in the business travel global rankings, making it one of the world’s largest corporate travel markets. With the Olympics, business travel to Brazil is expected to increase considerably this year, yet many Americans are worried about the threats of the virus. Consider the results of a recent survey conducted by my company, On Call International: 64% of Americans and 69% of all women surveyed, said they would cancel their travel plans because of Zika. There is, however, a disparity between these widespread concerns and the ways businesses have actually responded to the virus. A survey by the Overseas Security Advisory Council found that of the 321 businesses that responded, less than 40% are allowing female employees to defer travel to affected countries, and only a fifth are allowing men to opt out. The majority of respondents are only taking steps to inform their employees about the virus.

Should more employers allow their employees to defer travel? In considering this question, business leaders need to turn to authoritative travel health sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help make informed choices around employee health and safety concerns.

Furthermore, women currently account for nearly half of all business travelers. The virus’s risks around pregnancy-related issues like miscarriages and birth defects will be top of mind for many businesswomen with travel plans to Brazil. Are employee concerns enough reason for businesses to stop travel to Brazil? Turning to authorities such as the CDC—and its recent travel advisory urging women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant to avoid travel to places like Brazil—provides a compelling reason for business leaders to consider more flexibility.

While women’s apprehensions around Zika seem obvious, the rising concern of the virus being transmitted sexually means that men with pregnant partners, or partners who may become pregnant, also have reason for concern. Notably, the CDC has issued warnings specifically for men traveling to locations like Brazil, which is another reason for businesses to give deferral of travel by men further consideration.

Duty of Care

As part of a company’s Duty of Care—the legal obligation to protect your employees from any reasonably foreseeable harm—your employees’ concerns around the Zika virus should be taken seriously. The virus is a new obstacle for businesses, and its risks require new approaches before any business travel to Zika-affected areas. Through proactive education, there are appropriate and responsible ways organizations can consider responding to the virus that are aligned with their legal and ethical responsibilities to their employees and their business. Organizations should consider meetings with all employees to discuss the virus and the health risks the virus imposes for travel.

If Travel is Necessary

While the symptoms of the virus – which are generally mild – are not immediately life-endangering, it is a good precaution to ensure employees are aware of resources such as doctors or hospitals in the areas where they are traveling. With special events like the Olympics, business leaders can also look into potential resources that are developed to help provide backup services for Rio during the Games. In preparation, Brazil is expected to invest $3.7 million in projects that include improving the medical infrastructure. These are investments that can benefit business travelers, if they have are made aware of them.

As there is no vaccine for the virus, organizations should share protection methods, including:

  • Avoid mosquitos and limit outdoor activities, especially from dawn until dusk when the Aedes aegypti mosquito is most active
  • Stay in accommodations with properly air-conditioned rooms. Netting for beds can also go a long way in protecting against the virus
  • Avoid unnecessary skin exposure by wearing long sleeves and pants
  • Purchase the correct insect spray—specifically those that contain DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535

Embracing Flexibility

A sound approach includes weighing the risks and rewards of travel to Brazil and other Zika-affected areas. Where possible, be flexibile. For example, if your organization has employees based permanently in Brazil, or local partners, leverage them for any work that needs to be done in person to reduce the risks of sending additional employees to Zika-affected areas. There are also easy, technology-driven solutions, such as video chats or teleconferences. Be creative in your travel risk management solutions and identify which methods work best for your organization. Building your risk management program from a solid base of proactive education helps empower employees to make informed decisions regarding their travel plans to locations affected by Zika.

For more on this topic, check out our May feature in Risk Management Magazine.