EAP or SAP to ensure safety?
EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) have traditionally been seen as the “go-to”, “one-stop” resource when it comes to workplace health. However; when it comes to workplace safety, and reducing risks of unproductivity, injury, fatality, and liability, there is a growing recognition that (SAP) Substance Abuse Professional processes may provide greater value. While EAP and SAP may share some roots, there are some very big differences that employers may wish to clearly understand.
Opportunities to prevent unnecessary injury and fatality occur regularly on worksites; yet how employers capitalize on these opportunities varies. When an employee presents to work not fit for duty due to substance use or impairment, self-discloses struggles with alcohol or drugs, or fails an alcohol or drug test (pre-employment, pre-access, post-incident or near miss, random, follow-up/unannounced, or reasonable suspicion), utilizing a SAP instead of, or in addition to EAP can provide a framework for both employer and employee for next steps without compromising safety.
EAP has long been and will continue to be a great employee service that is accessed voluntarily and confidentially for employees to get professional help for a wide-range of stressors. Unlike EAP professionals, SAPs are specifically trained to protect workplace safety by assessing employees, determining whether they meet criteria for a SUD (Substance Use Disorder) or not, and making recommendations concerning specific and most appropriate substance misuse education, treatments, aftercare, and follow-up testing. This framework helps to ensure employees get the right type and intensity of intervention, and allows employers to illustrate due process which can close otherwise open gaps for potential liability, litigation and grievances. Due to the voluntary and “client-centered” nature of EAP, matters of confidentiality often keep employers in the dark regarding an employee’s progress as the employee controls the flow of information. This is especially evident as some professional disciplines are bound by ethical dictates that limit the amount of information shared even in mandatory referral situations. This can lead to uncertainty in several areas and employers often have no assurance that an employee is getting substance misuse specific help, nor assurance that an employee is any safer to return to work. Alternatively, SAPs are “safety-centered”; processes and compliance are mandatory. This helps to increase employee motivation for participation and gives the employer certain assurance in regards to safety and confidence to take next steps. With SAP process, should employees not comply or fail to complete recommendations, an employer has more legal options available for discipline up to termination.
The WCB (Workers Compensation Board of Saskatchewan), states that the average number of workplace fatalities each year in Saskatchewan over the last 15 years is 37, and the average number of “serious injuries” each year over that period is 2400. While there are certainly many potential factors involved in causation, a portion will be directly or indirectly related to substance misuse. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, roughly 12% of Canadians have a SUD (Substance Use Disorder), yet less than 1% ever access help. This may be due to the continued stigma around substance misuse and psychological health disorders and/or insufficient employer processes in managing these situations. A much larger percentage of the working population without a SUD may also report to work unfit for duty, which can be commonly overlooked, neglected, or mismanaged. For true prevention, it is vital that these situations be identified and effectively addressed earlier to prevent future unproductivity, injury and long-term costs.
Many employers may still be operating without sufficient alcohol and drug policies and processes to manage these situations. Employers that do have a policy may still be overly reliant on traditional practices and resources, or terminate employees without due process risking litigation and grievances. In an ever-changing and evolving world of safety and labour law, and with what is at stake, utilizing SAP processes can be very advantageous. After all, every employee deserves to go home safe and sound. This means employers must have the ability to help employees with physical, psychological, or substance related struggles without compromising safety.
Scott Heil, ICADC, CCAC, SAP/SAE