This is not a story about trucks or trucking but is one which FleetWatch feels needs to be highlighted to all our readers for it serves as an alert for businesses across the entire spectrum of the economy – and that includes our valuable trucking industry. It’s about people.
Stress has been described as the world’s new illness and given South Africa lousy politics and our lousy economy (they are directly related), South Africa has become a highly stressed society. This horrible new ‘disease’ can contribute to serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses – as well as mental disorders like depression or anxiety. However, something not often related to stress is the fact that it can also lead to increased drug and substance abuse – and it has.
According to Vernon Goss, director of the Riverview Manor Rehabilitation Centre in Underberg in the southern Drakensberg, drug and substance abuse is taking its toll on South African businesses, with very few companies being exempt.
Goss says that although local statistics are hard to come by – and are often outdated – this is a growing problem. In 2014, substance abuse cost the South African economy approximately R40-billion. This is according to a report published at the time in the South African Medical Journal. He has not given more recent stats but says that since the global economic meltdown in 2008 and a massive local recession that began in 2018, these figures are climbing.
“Higher prices and shrinking disposable incomes put immense pressure on wage earners these days. Add to that the fact that companies are not replacing staff or even retrenching and then piling more responsibilities on those left behind and you have an extremely stressful workplace. Growing rates of substance abuse are no surprise,” Goss points out.
The result is potentially catastrophic. Many tasks – such as driving a vehicle, a forklift or operating machinery – require alertness, good motor co-ordination, quick response and reflexes. The survival of a company requires good decision making and attention to detail at the highest level.
Substance abuse impacts negatively on safety and security, resulting in accidents and even fatalities. Absenteeism and increased sick leave, poor decision making and even sleeping on the job due to a hangover can reduce efficiency and production. Substance abuse can also negatively affect the morale and well-being of co-workers or even result in theft to support a growing habit.
According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) in America (where alcohol and drug-related abuse by employees totals $100-billion a year), alcohol and drug users are not only far less productive but use three times as many sick days, are more likely to injure themselves or someone else and are five times more likely to file worker’s compensation claims.
Goss notes that, unlike in many other countries, South African labour legislation stipulates that businesses play an active role in assisting employees. While the Occupational Health and Safety Act sets stringent standards for workplace safety and emphasises the employer’s responsibility for ensuring no alcohol or drug abuse on the job, transgressors can’t simply be dismissed.
The Labour Relations Act says that dependency on alcohol or drugs must be treated as incapacity and not misconduct. Item 10 stipulates that, if an employee informs an employer that he or she is suffering from an addiction, the company is legally obligated to provide help before even considering dismissal.
Goss believes that support from an employer – and the fact that rehabilitation can be funded by medical aid – can have a significant impact, saving companies the added expense of losing valuable skills and experience and hiring and training new staff.
FleetWatch is certainly not using this to punt or recommend Riverside Manor – and no, they are not paying us for this – but since it is a field where we are not experts, we are putting it forward as a starting point because, according to Goss, the most important thing of all in terms of treatment is finding a treatment facility with a sound track record that provides an intensive program that includes life skills that are vital to a sustained recovery.
Riverview Manor is a private specialist clinic that offers a multi-disciplinary treatment plan. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, it offers psychotherapeutically based treatment and incorporates the best of traditional and modern approaches. It has also been named by the British journal, Addiction Today, as one of the top five facilities of its kind in the world. It is also the first South African rehabilitation centre to be accepted as a member of the European Association for the Treatment of Addiction (EATA).
“Through our specialist staff, co-ordinated approach and intimate groups, we are able to provide clients with the tools to address their own unique challenges,” Goss explains.
These could include everything from drug and alcohol addiction and dependence to anxiety, depression, trauma and stress. Since the addition of a new wing in 2018, Riverview Manor has constantly updated its programmes to incorporate a growing range of addictions that now also include everything from substance abuse (crystal meth, heroin and cocaine) to prescription medication and even gambling and sex addictions.
“You need to choose a treatment centre and a partner that you can trust and with whom you feel comfortable. You need to find a place to which you can escape to heal and deal with any addiction that is impacting on your ability to live a healthy life. This must be a place where you are understood and feel nurtured and where you can be confident that you have total privacy and confidentiality. This is particularly important for high profile clients such as CEOs or managers. Because we are located in the rural town, they can participate in supervised activities without fear of recognition,” he says.
FleetWatch is calling on all managers to be on the alert for any changes in employees’ conduct, performance, attendance or attitude. Rather than giving the job a ‘finger up’, that person could be crying out for help. Keep your door open to what is not always the obvious.