MSHA addresses substance abuse issues in workplace

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

Thursday, area business supervisors had the opportunity to learn more about substance abuse in the work place. Mountain States Health Alliance's, Employee Advisory Program (EAP) provided information on the issue.
   MSHA supervisors met in Sycamore Shoals Hospital's Pine Room to learn more about their roles in dealing with drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace.
   "In today's environment it is a very important topic that we need to cover, because of work-related injuries ... and decrease in productivity," Scott Williams, C.E.O. of Sycamore Shoals Hospitals, said. "Substance abuse across the country is on the rise, not in what we call soft drugs, but what we call hard drugs like cocaine and heroine."
   William Hamil, EAP Coordinator for MSHA, gave insight into managing the effects of substance abuse at work. The EAP is a company-sponsored benefit that assists employees with a variety of problems, including, family conflict, depression, stress, and drug and alcohol abuse.
   "We know that people use, and sometimes abuse, alcohol and other drugs, and for a company to pretend it does not go on is self-defeating to both the employee and the company," Hamil said. "We are here to recognize that people sometimes have problems, and we are giving them permission to get help for their problems."
   Hamil provided supervisors with a systematic approach to dealing with employees with drug abuse problems. He stated that an employer's most important task when dealing with substance abuse in the workplace is to continue to monitor job performance. If patterns of substandard job performance surface, Hamil advised supervisors to take steps toward corrective action.
   Tardiness, absenteeism, a decline in the quantity and quality of work, mood swings, and a decline in personal appearance are all signs of substance abuse problems, according to Hamil. "Any of these characteristics isolated by themselves is no big deal, but when you have one after another it might suggest there is something going on, and it may be that this person has a problem with alcohol or drugs," Hamil said.
   The information on substance abuse is valuable in all working environments. Hamil stated every business has the opportunity to help their employees, and businesses as a whole, by educating supervisors on how to deal with drug problems appropriately.
   MSHA's Business Advisory Council (BAC), sponsored Thursday's program on substance abuse. It was the first of many workplace and health-related programs that will take place in the county. The BAC is planning to hold a series of programs at Sycamore Shoals throughout the year.
   Officials would like to see the entire business community become involved in future health education programs sponsored by the BAC. They believe business owners and supervisors in Carter County would benefit from the discussion of their employees' health related needs.
   "This is a good avenue to pass along pertinent health information to our businesses and industries that would effect productivity and quality," Williams said. "In return, the business community can talk with us about health needs that they may have."
   Williams is looking for businesses and industries in Carter County to develop a working relationship with the BAC that would result in a healthier community overall. He believes by paying attention to employee health needs, businesses can have safer working environments with quicker employee recovery times.
   Business owners are invited to contact Williams with any topic suggestions for future programs. "We want to make sure we are providing our business community with quality, timely information and any suggestions would be greatly appreciated," Williams said.