Workforce Drug Positivity Rate Highest Since 2004

Workforce use of illicit drugs across the board—including cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine—has climbed to the highest rate in 12 years, a study by Quest Diagnostics found.

Overall positivity in urine drug testing among the combined U.S. workforce in 2016 was 4.2%, a 5% relative increase over last year’s rate of 4%—the highest annual positivity rate since 2004 (4.5%), according to an analysis of more than 10 million workforce drug test results.

“This year’s findings are remarkable because they show increased rates of drug positivity for the most common illicit drugs across virtually all drug test specimen types and in all testing populations,” Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics Employer Solutions, said in a statement. “Our analysis suggests that employers committed to creating a safe, drug-free work environment should be alert to the potential for drug use among their workforce.”

The positivity rate in urine testing for cocaine increased for the fourth consecutive year in the general U.S. workforce and for the second consecutive year in the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce. Cocaine positivity increased 12% in 2016, reaching a seven-year high of 0.28%, compared to 0.25% in 2015 in the general U.S. workforce, and 7% among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers to 0.28% from 0.26% in 2015.

Marijuana positivity continued to climb in both the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive and general U.S. workforces. In oral fluid testing, which detects recent drug use, marijuana positivity increased nearly 75%, from 5.1% in 2013 to 8.9% in 2016 in the general U.S. workforce. Marijuana positivity also increased in both urine testing (2.4% in 2015 versus 2.5% in 2016) and hair testing (7.0% in 2015 versus 7.3% in 2016) in the same population. Among the federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforce, which only uses urine testing, marijuana positivity increased nearly 10% (0.71% in 2015 versus 0.78% in 2016), the largest year-over-year increase in five years.

In Colorado and Washington, the first states in which recreational marijuana use was legalized, the overall urine positivity rate for marijuana outpaced the national average in 2016 for the first time since the statutes took effect. The national positivity rate for marijuana in the general U.S. workforce in urine testing increased 4% (2.4% in 2015 compared to 2.5% in 2016).

Positivity for amphetamines (which includes amphetamine and methamphetamine) continued a year-over-year upward trend, increasing more than 8% in urine testing in both the general U.S. and federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforces compared to 2015. According to Quest, this rise over the past decade has been driven primarily by amphetamine use, including certain prescription drugs such as Adderall.

After four straight years of increases, in 2016, urine testing positivity for heroin held steady in the general U.S. workforce and declined slightly among federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workers.

Positivity for prescription opiates—including hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxycodones—declined in urine testing among the general U.S. workforce. Oxycodones have seen four consecutive years of declines, dropping 28% from 0.96% in 2012 to 0.69% in 2016. Hydrocodone and hydromorphone both showed double-digit declines in both 2015 and 2016 (0.92% in 2015 to 0.81% in 2016) and (0.67% in 2015 to 0.59% in 2016), respectively.

This decline may be due to the fact that state and federal authorities have made efforts in the past few years to place tighter controls on opiate prescribing in order to address the opioid crisis.

Make Your Hurricane Preparations Now

With the Atlantic hurricane season’s official start on June 1, the time to check your buildings and existing contingency plans—or start a new one—is now, during hurricane preparedness week.

For 2017, Colorado State University’s hurricane research team predicts slightly below-average activity of hurricanes making landfall, with a forecast of 11 named storms, four hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.

The 2016 season is seen as a wakeup call, as 15 named storms and seven hurricanes formed in the Atlantic Basin—the largest number since 2012. Among the hurricanes was Matthew, a Category 4, which devastated Haiti, leaving 546 dead and hundreds of thousands in need of assistance. After being downgraded to a Category 2, Matthew pummeled southeast coastal regions of the U.S., with 43 deaths reported and widespread flooding in several states.

Here are 10 preparedness steps offered by FEMA:

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) warns that small businesses are especially vulnerable. Of businesses closed because of a disaster, at least one in four never reopens.

IBHS offers these steps for preparing a business for hurricane season:

  1. Have your building(s) inspected and complete any maintenance needed to ensure your building can stand up to severe weather.
  2. Designate an employee to monitor weather reports and alert your team to the potential of severe weather.
  3. Review your business continuity plan and update as needed, including employee contact information. If you do not have a business continuity plan, consider IBHS’ free, easy-to-use business continuity plan toolkit for small businesses.
  4. Remind employees of key elements of the plan, including post-event communication procedures and work/payroll procedures. Make sure all employees have a paper copy of the plan. Review emergency shutdown and start-up procedures, such as electrical systems, with appropriate personnel, including alternates.
  5. If backup power such as a diesel generator is to be used, test your system and establish proper contracts with fuel suppliers for emergency fuel deliveries.
  6. Re-inspect and replenish emergency supplies inventory, since emergency supplies are often used during the offseason for non-emergency situations.
  7. Test all life safety equipment.
  8. Conduct training/simulation exercises for both your business continuity and emergency preparedness/response plans.

Interstate Restoration has a day-by-day list of steps for business storm preparation, based on NOAA recommendations. They include research, planning and documenting, gathering emergency supplies, checking insurance coverage and supply chain and finalizing your plan.

Protecting Employees in the Face of International Risks

Increasing globalization and the growing world market presents employees with opportunities to travel and experience new countries and cultures. With travel comes risk, however. In the event of an unforeseen incident, it is an organization’s top priority to ensure its employees are safe and out of harm’s way.

By following proactive travel risk management strategies, employers can help ensure not only the safety of their employees abroad, but also the success of their businesses while avoiding major financial, legal and reputation costs. When developing travel policies, companies must consider the health, safety and security risks that their employees could encounter.

Security Risks
The frightening unknowns of crises such as sudden earthquakes or airport terror attacks can cause distress and chaos. It is the duty of a company’s human resources department to ensure employees are safe and secure, as being unprepared for such events could have dire consequences. For the best outcome, companies should proactively develop travel risk management plans before disaster strikes. Consider these guidelines for your company’s travel emergency plans:

  • Share information. Ensure employees are educated on how to avoid security risks in their destinations and share corresponding safety advice.
  • Develop a communication plan. Decide how employees should contact HR and/or other crisis response team members and vice versa in the event of an emergency.
  • Give employees information about who to contact if they’re in an emergency scenario. Create staffing patterns or third party resources that can accommodate after-hours calls.
  • Consider rearranging travel plans if there’s a high security risk. Use technologies, such as video conferencing, to keep business rolling as usual if employees need to conduct in-person meetings in destinations where it may be temporarily unsafe to travel.
  • Encourage employees to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The app provides updated travel warnings and alerts via email. It can also help the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate locate individuals in the event of a disaster.

Health Risks
Recent disease outbreaks in several countries have caused concern among business and leisure travelers alike. If organizations have plans for employees to travel to areas experiencing widespread illness, consider exercising flexibility. If a disease epidemic is dominating news headlines, there is a good chance employees will be concerned about going to a destination that’s affected. In these cases, advise alternative options such as video calls or contacting local partners to help out. On the other hand, if employees elect to travel to the location, it is the employer’s job to ensure they have the knowledge and resources they need to have a safe and successful trip. To help protect the health of a traveling employee, HR professionals should:

  • Research and understand destination-specific health risks and share this information with employees. Education is essential to preventing life-threatening situations.
  • Ask employees to fill out personal medical information Forms. An employee should bring a copy on the trip and also leave copies with trusted friends or family. In the event of a medical emergency, the trustees will be able to obtain important personal medical details from the document, such as insurance coverage, current or past medical conditions and emergency contact information.
  • Remind employees to carry prescription paperwork. This can prevent issues at airport security and can be useful should a new or similar prescription be necessary locally.
  • Confirm that employees are covered by health insurance that is accepted overseas. This will help avoid monstrous fees later on.

Potential Costs for the Business
The costs of not following these strategies can be far-reaching. Your employees’ health and safety is always of utmost importance. However, there are also some continuity issues to consider.

At the most basic level, a health or safety issue that affects a traveling employee will likely cause a loss in productivity and, therefore, an impact to your organization’s bottom line. Companies could furthermore face cancellation fees, lost deposits, unused inventory or lost sales. Additionally, medical bills, medical evacuations and security evacuations can pose huge financial burdens on both employees and the company.

Furthermore, an organization that doesn’t adequately prepare for potential risks and therefore compromises an employee’s safety can lose loyalty quickly. If employees know their colleagues were put in risky situations, they will likely lose trust in their companies—which could cause engagement (and business results) to decline.

Adding to the strain of a disillusioned workforce, legal disputes could arise. An injured worker seeking remedies could bring an injury claim against their employer. The cost a company could face when it comes to duty of care disputes depends on the complexity of the case, the length of time and whether it reaches a full trial. Businesses should be prepared for the possibility of facing court cases by following key risk management strategies before being pulled through lengthy and costly litigation processes.

There are also reputation costs to consider. One of the most damaging scenarios may be that the company’s failure to fulfill their duty of care obligation leads to media headlines resulting in serious brand damage. In this case, the news can mar the company’s reputation, causing stakeholders to pull away and resulting in devastating loss in revenue.

Above all, employees are the backbone of an organization, and their safety and security should be the top priority for every business. Devising a sound risk management plan for travelling employees is crucial for ensuring the safety of employees as well as the longevity of your business.

Dallas Alarms Hack a Warning of Infrastructure Vulnerability

Dallas residents were wide awake and in a state of confusion late Friday night when the city’s outdoor emergency system was hacked, causing all of its 156 alarms to blast for an hour-and-a-half until almost 1:30 a.m.

With some interpreting the warning as a bomb or missile, a number of residents dialed 9-1-1, but the number of calls—4,400 in all—overwhelmed the system, causing some callers to wait for up to six minutes for a response, the New York Times reported.

The alarms blasted for 90-second durations about 15 times, Rocky Vaz, the director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, told reporters at a news conference.

Mr. Vaz said emergency workers and technicians had to first figure out whether the sirens had been activated because of an actual emergency. And turning off the sirens also proved difficult, eventually prompting officials to shut down the entire system.

“Every time we thought we had turned it off, the sirens would sound again, because whoever was hacking us was continuously hacking us,” Sana Syed, a spokeswoman for the city told the Times.

Eventually the alarms were turned off, which had to be done manually, one alarm at a time.

On Saturday afternoon the system, used for hurricanes and other warnings, was still down, but officials said they hoped to have it functioning soon. They also said they had pinpointed the origin of the security breach after ruling out that the alarms had come from their control system or from remote access.

Mr. Vaz said that Dallas had reached out to the Federal Communications Commission for help and was taking steps to prevent hackers from setting off the system again, but that city officials had not communicated with federal law enforcement authorities.

Security officials have warned about the risks that such hacking attacks pose to infrastructure, which is often aging and in disrepair. Federal data shows that the number of attacks on critical infrastructure appears to have risen: to nearly 300 in 2015 from just under 200 in 2012. Attacks include a 2008 oil pipeline explosion in Turkey; a 2015 hacking of Ukraine’s power grid, leaving 200,000 people in Western Ukraine without electricity for several hours; and in 2013, hackers tried to gain control of a small dam in upstate New York. Seven computer specialists, who worked for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps., were indicted for trying to take over controls of the dam, according to the Times.