In the dairy industry, employee management efforts tend to focus on procedures, work ethic, and training. However one central issue that has been rarely discussed — or perhaps avoided — is alcohol and drug abuse.

As a veterinarian and dairy producer, I have seen the effects of substance abuse in the workplace and how it impairs persons and their ability to work efficiently and safely.

Every dairy producer should address this issue and the various ramifications, including:


1. Safety

A dairy farm is a dangerous place to work. Cattle, machinery, and facilities offer opportunities for injury or death to occur. And while good managers know training is essential for employee safety, when someone arrives at work impaired by drugs or alcohol, he or she is an accident waiting to happen. 

Don’t assume that just because you have all family labor that the problem doesn’t exist. Drug and alcohol abuse is an equal-opportunity problem — it strikes both family and non-family labor.


2. Employee morale

There is no greater threat to employee morale than having to work with an incapacitated person. Anger, fear, and frustration develop within good employees when they must work with substance-abusing co-workers.

Most employees will not come forward to inform management of the problem. Therefore, the owner’s only clue comes from employee turnover, poor job performance, or a high rate of injury or equipment damage. 

If management fails to act on these issues, respect from the other employees is lost. Your employees are the backbone of your business, and if substance abuse by a few is present, your business will suffer. 


3. Legal issues

With today’s drug laws, if an employee is found to have illegal drugs in your equipment or vehicles, that equipment or vehicle can be confiscated. If an employee sells drugs on your farm, law enforcement officials may bring even greater pressure to bear on you.

If an impaired dairy employee causes another person’s death or injury, the liability to your dairy farm business is astronomical. Insurance companies can and will cancel coverage if repeated problems occur involving impaired employees.


What you can do

It is management’s responsibility to provide a drug- and alcohol-free workplace.

Technologies to monitor drug and alcohol use have become remarkably simple. For example, urine test kits can evaluate a wide variety of agents. And, some companies will do the testing for you. Consult with your state labor agency and workmen’s compensation insurance company regarding the legalities and issues associated with drug testing.

For many, this is a difficult program to implement. It may mean losing key persons; retribution from terminated employees, or elimination of potential new employees. 

Before you start testing employees, establish a written protocol outlining your farm’s policy on drugs and alcohol in the workplace. Make sure that everyone is aware of the new policy, the testing procedure and the penalties for failing a test. Get everyone to sign the policy.

A drug- and alcohol-free workplace has its rewards. Employee morale and worker productivity will improve, and you may even get lower insurance premiums. It’s well worth the effort.


Paul Johnson is a veterinarian and dairy producer in Climax, Ga.