With a heavy focus on distracted driving awareness month, workplace violence awareness month, worker’s memorial day, and world health day in April, off-the-job safety topics can get a little overshadowed this month. But since the things that happen to us off the job can impact our actions on the job, communication about them is vitally important.
National Alcohol Awareness Month
A big topic in the month of April is distracted driving awareness. But given that driving incidents can affect workers regardless of what causes them, why not also recognize National Alcohol Awareness month with your employees?
Drinking can be a major source of vehicle-related fatalities. But alcoholism doesn’t only affect driving—April has been national alcohol awareness month since 1987. Alcohol is addictive and can lead to physical dependence. People often associate alcohol with celebration but it’s also a substance that many turn to after a hard day, given the extra dopamine (the happy hormone) your body produces as a result.
Continuing to drink alcohol impairs cognitive and physical functions, which can lead to neglecting responsibilities associated with work and home life. It can also result in decisions that wouldn’t be made under normal circumstances because of alcohol-induced lowered inhibitions and irrational thoughts.
People often don’t notice that alcohol has become a problem until it’s too late. That’s why National Alcohol Awareness Month is a great time to spark important conversations.
Why not start a conversation about looking out for the signs that alcohol has become a problem:
- You need a drink to feel normal.
- The list of reasons you feel that you need a drink is long (e.g., to relax, deal with stress, help with pain, need it to sleep).
- You subconsciously reach for a drink—it has become habitual rather than intentional.
- You sacrifice other things in order to have a drink (money, time with family, work).
- You choose to drink over other responsibilities.
- You drink alone more often than in a social setting.
It can be hard for people to admit they have a problem, but having this conversation could help them not only recognize the issue but also educate them on how to get help.
A workplace employee assistance program (EAP) can help in a number of ways. If your workplace has an EAP, remind employees that it’s confidential and they can receive access to:
- Immediate substance abuse and mental health support
- Short-term counseling and/or counseling referrals
- Assessment/diagnosis of the problem and treatment program referral if necessary
- Follow-up support
Medication Safety Week
Another national safety observance that you should take note of is Medical Safety Awareness week. Since medication errors are the sixth leading cause of death, it can be worthwhile to discuss how medications are used and stored.
One issue with prescription medication and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs is that they are perceived in vastly different ways than illegal street drugs. We deem them safe and harmless, but prescription and OTC drugs can be more addictive and dangerous than illegal drugs. But because these drugs are viewed as “safe,” it’s easy to become complacent about the risks.
Talking about the dangers in a toolbox talk or safety meeting can help bring the risks back into focus. Hearing about how common it is to be under the influence of prescription or OTC drugs could help employees see the risks and know the warning signs for when taking these drugs goes wrong.
Adverse effects include any side effects that are secondary to the one intended, an allergic reaction that would cause abnormal behavior or food-drug interactions that work in tandem to change how they affect the human body. It’s important to emphasize that any time you feel “off” when taking drugs of any kind, it’s your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong. Certain situations could warrant medical attention—it’s not only the person taking the drugs who’s at risk, so be sure employees know how important it is to be fit for duty and the steps they can take if they’re not.
National Public Health Week
You may have noticed a trend with the above two topics—they focus specifically on an employee’s state of mind and health at work when they could be altered by substances. Since the focus of off-the-job safety topics in the workplace is meant to shed light on how employees will be impacted by them at work, communicating them is important.
If time is limited, you could combine national alcohol safety month and medical safety week in one talk under the focus of National Public Health Week. Doing so can communicate that overall health is important (and largely takes place outside of the workplace) and will ultimately impact employees in the workplace if someone’s health impedes their work or safety. If more time allows for a few different quick safety talks—in addition to the two talks listed above—you could also include the topics suggested by the American Public Health Association (NPHA).
The 2023 focus suggests the following topics for each day of the week: Community (Monday), Violence Prevention (Tuesday), Reproductive and Sexual Health (Wednesday), Mental Health (Thursday), Rural Health (Friday), Accessibility (Saturday) and Food and Nutrition (Sunday).