Articles in the annual Pipeline Report (p. 41) in this week's issue focus on quality (evaluating supplier performance) and system integrity (along a new pipeline in North America and an aging one in Russia).
In fact, the petroleum and natural gas transportation industries in North America, particularly in light of the volumes they move each year by pipeline, have sterling records for both dependability and safety.
Yet, their workers are under close scrutiny for drug and alcohol abuse, and for good reason. Such abuse threatens not only their lives but also those around them and among the general public. And it's costly.
Despite progress in education, treatment, and prevention, substance abuse, primarily of alcohol, continues to threaten pipeline system construction and operation and personnel safety.
At a gathering earlier this year, industry representatives got an earful about the problem from Robert Stutman of Employee Information Services, Coral Springs, Fla. His message to pipeline and terminal operators was, in large part, "Be alert and knowledgeable."
Stutman and his colleagues have assembled an array of statistics for the past 10 years from a variety of sources to suggest the magnitude of the problem. Among them:
- Alcohol-related injuries on the job cost US companies an estimated $47 billion annually.
- Compared with the general population, estimated relative risk of accidental death is 2.5 to 8 times greater among males defined as heavy drinkers or alcohol-dependent.
- Among alcoholics or problem drinkers, job absenteeism is up to 16 times greater.
- A family member may use 10 times more sick leave-presumably to take care of the drunk or stoned family member or to clean up his or her mess, physical and otherwise.
- In general, problems resulting from use of alcohol and other drugs cost American business an estimated $81.6 billion in lost productivity in 1990 as a result of premature death and illness; 86% is related to alcohol.
Stutman also reports some successes-for people, their employers, and their society-of various prevention and assistance programs. Among them:
- A $209-million California investment in substance-abuse treatment among 150,000 people cut the average per-person annual medical bill by almost 33%, emergency room visits by 38%, and hospital admissions by 33%.
- A university study found that, for alcoholics, days lost to illness dropped by 50% after treatment.
- For every dollar an employer invests in an Employee Assistance Program, it has generally saved $5-16.
Stutman's work merely specifies what industry has long known generally: Operators simply cannot afford-in dollars and cents-to turn a blind eye to drug and alcohol abuse among their employees.
No matter the advancements in materials and practices to build pipelines, it will always be the people who build and operate pipelines who will make the difference.