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If someone is impaired in the workplace, they could put themselves or others at risk. People can be impaired by lack of sleep, stress, relationship breakdowns, external stress or pressures, prescription medication, or alcohol and other drug use. 

Health and Safety legislation requires employers to ensure a safe working environment for all employees, and part of that is lowering the risk from impairment.

There are many ways to reduce the risks to employees from impairment, and it start with keeping lines of communication open.

Be prepared and offer proactive support

If an employee has something going on, Employee Assistance Programmes and other health and social services can them identify what is happening and come up with a plan. Building positive relationships in advance, and clearly communicating your processes, will enable quicker and easier access to these programmes when they are needed.

Understand the situation and be flexible in how you respond

The fact that someone has used alcohol or other drugs at some point does not necessarily mean they are currently impaired, or that they have an addictive pattern of use. Impaired performance can have serious consequences in some roles where safety and fast reaction times are paramount. It's important to be clear about the actual impact of drugs on work performance.

Have a focus on employee wellbeing and building trust

This could involve having an employee wellness programme that includes coverage for substance use problems, having regular conversations with employees about their wellbeing, and providing education and clear messages about how substance use can impact wellbeing and work.

Help your line managers know how to best support their staff.

Clear and supportive conversations early in the piece can help to engage employees and prevent a difficult situation from getting worse. Support your line managers to recognise issues before they become a problem, and help or train them to know how to have clear and supportive conversations with their teams.

Focus workplace policies on keeping staff employed

Recruitment, orientation, and training take time and resources - so it makes sense to work with existing employees to support them. Policies can be written in a way that promotes early identification of issues and flexible responses that are appropriate for the situation, while prioritising keeping your staff members employed.