With more prescription and OTC drugs than ever and more people taking them, there’s an increased risk of employees coming to work impaired by medications.
Although we’re all familiar with the dangers of alcohol and illegal drugs in the workplace, many businesses have paid little attention to the effects of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Yet, some of these drugs can cause serious impairments and could interact with other drugs or foods in ways that can jeopardize workplace safety. For example, a study the University of Iowa found that a dose of Benadryl – a common OTC antihistamine – can impair driving performance as much as alcohol. More potent prescription drugs can cause even stronger and more dangerous reactions, such as slowing brain activity and impairing thinking and judgment. Breakdown products from some prescription medications can stay in the body for days, affecting coordination, concentration, and judgment.
Be sure to educate your workers about possible impairments and how to use prescription and OTC drugs safely. Encourage them to inform themselves about the possible job safety risks taking medications. For OTC medications, workers can inform themselves about warnings and side effects simply by 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, they should tell the provider:
- If they drive to work and/or on the job
- If they have a hazardous job (for example, operating equipment or handling dangerous substances)
- About any other medications (prescription or OTC) they’re taking; and
- Any reactions they’ve had in the past to drugs.
They should also ask about side affects that could affect job safety.
Require employees to inform their supervisor if they’re taking any medication that could cause impairment – especially if their job involves any kind of safety hazard. Depending on the risks, the supervisor might decide to reassign the employee temporarily while he or she is taking the medication.