Home > Safety, Security > Legal Drugs in the Workplace

Legal Drugs in the Workplace

September 4, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

With more prescription and OTC drugs on the market than ever before, and more people taking these drugs, there’s an increased risk of employees coming to work impaired by medications.

While the dangers of alcohol and use of illegal drugs in the workplace have been much discussed and well documented, little attention has been paid to the effects of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Yet, some of these drugs can cause serious impairment problems and could interact with other drugs or foods in ways that can jeopardize workplace safety.

For example, a study performed some years back at the University of Iowa found that a dose of Benadryl, a common OTC antihistamine, can impair driving performance as much as alcohol.

The more potent prescription drugs can cause even stronger and more dangerous reactions. Some can slow brain activity and impair thinking and judgment. Breakdown products from some prescription medications can stay in the body for days as well, affecting coordination, concentration, and judgment.

Getting the Right Information

It’s important to educate your workers about possible impairments and how to use prescription and OTC drugs safely. Encourage your employees to inform themselves about the possible job safety risks that could result from taking medications.

For OTC medications, employees can inform themselves about warnings and side effects by simply reading the label.

To find out about possible impairment caused by prescription drugs, employees should speak to the healthcare provider who issues their prescription. For example, employees should tell the healthcare provider:

  • If they drive to work and/or on the job
  • If they have a hazardous job (for example, operating equipment or handling hazardous substances)
  • About any other medications (prescription or OTC) they are taking
  • About any reactions they’ve had in the past to any drugs

They should also ask about side affects that could affect job safety.

Reporting Medication Use

Require employees to inform their supervisor if they are taking any medication that could cause impairment if their job involves any kind of safety hazard. Depending on the risks, the supervisor might decide to temporarily reassign the employee while he or she is on the medication.

Common, everyday, over the counter medications are often used with little or no consideration of the effects they may have. When consideration is given, its usually “this may make me sleepy” or something similar. Easy to rationalize as inconsequential. Employees need to be given a glimpse at the “big picture” to see how those inconsequential side effects could impact their coworkers.

 

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