Drug and Alcohol Misuse – The Effects
This is the seventh post in a series of 25. Each post will be dealing with a shipboard work related issue and how to cope with it. Previous articles in the series has been about:
- Safe Manual Handling
- Preventing Slip, Trips and falls
- Toolbox Talks
- Lifting Operations
- Lifting Equipment
- Working at height
Today most operators have a zero policy for alcohol and drugs on board their vessels. Some times it is a requirement from the charterers and sometimes it natural for the company to work along this route.
Regardless of the reason for the zero policy the alcohol and drugs are still on board certain vessels. Regarding the drugs, they do not need to be present on board really, since the substance remains within the body for a long time.
What is the problem?
The biggest problem offshore is that if alcohol and drugs are present within the operation, the risk for accidents increases rapidly.
In 2008, alcohol and drugs misuse cost up to 60 people – including ship’s captains – their jobs at a leading subsea contractor. This is just one example but one thing is clear, where there is people, there is also a risk to face this type of problem, and it could be anyone.
What are the solution?
As mention above, the first solution is to have a zero tolerance policy. In the perfect world this should be enough, but since we are human beings, we also have to check compliance with the requirements. This is mainly done in two ways:
- Announced screening (i.e. before flying out from heliport)
- Unannounced screening (i.e. carried out randomly by company or contractors)
Unfortunately both of these methods are needed, intoxicated crew members are caught in both of these nets.
So, if these two methods cannot stop the misuse, what can?
First we have to realize the alcoholism is a disease. Secondly it has to be allowed to talk about it. Now we can do something about it.
In many countries and companies they do not realize the alcoholism is a disease and therefore it is strongly connected with “loosing the job forever”. In other countries the progress has come further, and companies have to offer care to the affected person. If the care is not accepted, then the person can loose the job.
But of course, there are also onetimers, persons without any long lasting problems or habits, but their actions still increases the risks for accidents rapidly,
Misuse of Alcohol and Drugs is MAD
The effects of some drugs can last for hours, days or even weeks. Examples of effects are described below:
- Co-ordination, response times and memory can be impaired;
- Repetitive use can increase the drug’s effect and increase the risk of accidents;
- Other side effects, even from prescribed drugs, can increase the risk of accidents;
- Everyday tasks can thus be made much more difficult to perform;
- Many people who misuse drugs or alcohol do not seem to believe that they are putting people at risk;
- Accidents can have long term effects on more than those directly involved.
We are all responsible for our own safety and the safety of those we work with!
An example of drug misuse – Marijuana
Today’s marijuana is reportedly five times stronger than it was in the 1970s. Its use can produce adverse physical, mental, emotional and behavioral changes. Contrary to popular belief, it can be addictive and the smoke can harm the lungs. It impairs short term memory, verbal skills and judgement and can distort perception. It may also weaken the immune system and possibly increase the user’s chances of developing cancer.
The major active chemical in marijuana is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). On inception of THC, heart rate may increase 20 to 50 beats per minute or even double. It impairs a person’s ability to form memories, recall events and shift attention from one thing to another. It disrupts co-ordination and reaction time. High doses can induce acute toxic psychosis, which includes hallucinations, delusions and loss of self recognition. Marijuana smokers have more health problems than non smokers, mainly with respiratory illnesses, with a double or triple risk of cancer of the head or neck. THC also impairs the body’s immune system.
Many fatal accident victims’ bodies have tested positive for THC.