A new study shows workforce housing in oil, gas and mining industries can help prevent — or at least minimize — alcohol and substance abuse among workers.


Alcohol and substance abuse costs the Canadian economy $24.3 billion per year in lost productivity and about 10 times that in the United States. Drinking on the job, working with hangovers, the use of more sick days and higher accident rates all contribute to these staggering figures. 

The numbers are much higher when you factor in indirect costs related to health care, employee turnover, legal issues, and the recruitment and training of replacement workers. The problem is most prevalent among blue-collar workers, and the upstream oil and gas, mining, and construction industries are among the highest sectors in which safety is paramount. 

Remote workforce conditions

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These sectors need policies to deal with the problem to reduce costly incidences, while addressing the root causes of alcohol and substance abuse in the workplace. Solutions to alcohol and substance abuse in blue-collar sectors include prevention, assistance, treatment and rehabilitation. However, while the elimination of such abuse is the ultimate goal, it’s not that simple. 

Studies by the International Labour Organization (ILO) have shown workplace policies to assist individuals with alcohol- and drug-related problems are the most effective for workers and employers alike, and the ILO considers it an obligation. 

Solutions that address many of the root causes of alcohol and drug dependency include biological, psychological and socio-environmental methods. Inadequate housing situations — a socio-environmental issue — are one of the three leading causes of alcohol and substance abuse. Shift work, isolation and the availability of illicit drugs make the situation worse. 

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An example of socio-environmental can be seen in the remote work camps, which only provide food and modest accommodations, and no type of activities for when they have finished their shifts. 

Studies of oil and gas camps in the Fort St. John, British Columbia, Canada, area have noted atmospheres of all-night partying, where new workers are introduced to the drug scene and older partiers set the standard — with frequent negative consequences for individuals, families and communities. Conditions can contribute to pressures on home life and depression, reinforcing the negative behaviors. 

In cases where no camp is provided, and workers are given accommodations in motels or rented rooms, they are more susceptible to alcohol and substance abuse. In this situation, drinking and taking drugs is considered a way of blowing off steam after work or a normal way of life off-shift.

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One important study showed transient workers often exhibit high susceptibility to alcohol and substance abuse due to loneliness, social distancing and lack of social support where there are inadequate local accommodations. 

“Workers away from home are at their best when they have high-quality and nutritious food, comfortable living space, recreation, entertainment, fitness alternatives, camaraderie and security,” says Bryan Archer, president and COO of Target Logistics, a global provider of remote workforce accommodations. 

Addiction assistance

One way to detect alcohol and substance abuse on the job is random drug testing, which is used in some states and provinces, although there is some controversy surrounding privacy. However, random drug testing has been shown to be effective as a deterrent. 

For instance, the U.S. Department of Transportation implemented random drug testing in 1995. Since then, random positive tests for alcohol declined by 60 percent, drug abuse by 47 percent, and post-incident positive tests for drugs declined from 3.11 percent to 1.4 percent. A 2001 Cornell University study of testing data from 71 construction companies in the United States concluded that, on average, within two years of implementing a drug-testing program, workplace injury rates were reduced by 51 percent. 

Preventive steps include restrictions or prohibitions on the possession and sale of alcohol on company premises in addition to proper work environments and accommodations. 

If you know that certain job situations may contribute to alcohol- and drug-related problems, do what is reasonably practicable to identify and take appropriate preventive or remedial action to protect your workers. 

A healthy environment

Creating the right kind of workplace — a healthy, safe and productive environment — is key. At remote mines and other resource extraction locales, this extends to the 12 hours that workers are off-shift. Healthy workplaces are physical and social environments that support individual and organizational health.

Employees will experience improved health, reduced work-related stress and illness, and an improved balance between their work and family obligations. Thus, less psychological maladies such as anxiety or depression and associated temptations to resort to alcohol and substance abuse will occur. 

“Better living conditions have proven to help workers avoid alcohol and substance abuse and to increase productivity, enhance morale, reduce turnover, increase profitability and improve safety,” Archer says.

Bottom line? Companies in the oil, gas, mining and construction industries need to face the problems of alcohol and substance abuse by employees both on and off the job. Many companies already have policies in place; if not, they should follow some of the aforementioned references and formulate an alcohol- and substance-abuse policy and implement it — to face and reduce the direct costs of such abuse. 

About the Author
Graham Chandler is a full-time writer, specializing in the oil, gas and mining industries, principally the business and technological aspects. He has published several hundred articles in magazines such as Oilsands Review, Alberta Oil, Earth Explorer, Far North Oil & Gas and dozens more. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics, an MBA in finance and a Ph.D. in archaeology. He can be reached at www.grahamchandler.ca

Target Logistics, an Algeco Scotsman company, is a global provider of workforce housing and one of the largest operators of turnkey solutions in North America. It operates in some of the world’s most remote environments supporting oil, gas, mining and construction operations, government agencies, disaster relief and large-scale events with temporary workforce lodging, mobile crew camps and extended-stay hotels. For more information, visit www.targetlogistics.net.


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