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How Can Workforce Housing Prevent Substance Abuse?

by Troy Schrenk

How Can Workforce Housing Prevent Substance Abuse?

When companies consider housing options for the rotational workforce, whether on a construction site or an oil field, price is a critical consideration. It might seem to save money in the short term to give workers a housing stipend, and let them find housing on their own.

But if companies simply give their workers a per diem for lodging, how can they know where that money is really going? Where are their workers really living? When workers spend their off-hours in overpriced motels or crowded campers, the lower housing cost could mean a higher risk to worker safety and well-being. Specifically, this uncomfortable living environment can contribute to alcohol and drug abuse.

The High Price of Cheap Housing

The housing alternatives at remote locations are often not a pretty picture. For many workers, their options are seedy motels with inflated rates or trailers parked on farmland in hot or cold climates. Doesn’t sound comfortable, does it? But there’s a more serious problem than bad mattresses or snoring roommates. Our white paper, Reducing Alcohol and Substance Abuse: A Benefit of Workforce Housing in Oil, Gas, Mining and Construction Industries, discusses the issue. As author Graham Chandler, Ph.D. says:

“…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 seen as a way of blowing off steam after work or a normal way of life offshift.”

In a lonely, stressful environment, it’s not a surprise if workers turn to alcohol or drugs for relief. Some studies have noted a party scene at some locations where older workers introduce younger workers—who may be vulnerable and homesick—to the drug scene. And, of course, with such an unpleasant place to call home, with no amenities or recreation, is it any wonder than workers find company and comfort at bars or parties? There’s no way to know if per diem money is being spent on adequate lodging and food, or on alcohol or drugs.

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The Risks of Substance Abuse

It’s no secret that the rotational workforce is vulnerable to substance abuse. Graham Chandler cites one study of the Canadian oil and gas industry, showing that geographical isolation, performance pressures and work schedules may contribute to a higher prevalence of alcohol- and substance-abuse issues than the rest of the country.

In the energy and construction sectors, with projects involving heavy machinery on rugged sites, substance abuse presents a special danger. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “the average cost of drug abuse per employee is $10,000 a year due to employee turnover, workers’ compensation claims, absenteeism, employee theft, violence on the job and the use of health care benefits.” This means stalled projects, high costs…and a high toll on human health and well-being.

The Positive Impact of a Secure Environment

Companies are aware of the substance abuse problem and put policies in place to reduce addiction and abuse in their employees. These programs often involve testing and education. But there’s another, critical way companies can reduce this problem: better housing.

Having a healthy, safe workplace for the rotational workforce must extend to the other 12 hours spent off-shift. A secure, safe, comfortable lodging environment, with positive recreation and downtime alternatives, can help combat the loneliness, stress, and boredom that could lead to the abuse of drugs or alcohol—and the accompanying dangers of crime and increased accidents. Our lodges boast game rooms, exercise facilities, Wi-Fi, and even pools in some locations. Most importantly, Target Lodging maintains a controlled environment with strict policies prohibiting alcohol, drugs, or cohabitation at its lodges, along with 24-hour security.

A per diem for workers seems less expensive, but might have higher costs in the long term. “Cheaper” housing comes with higher risks to projects and to workers. Poor housing options such as campers and hotels can contribute to and exacerbate substance abuse problems, in turn creating real risks for safety, health, and well-being. Quality lodging can address this very serious problem through comfort, recreation, and policies that prohibit drugs and alcohol. With this in mind, is cheap housing something you and your workers can afford?