Legal pot linked to spike in workplace injuries

By Gatonye Gathura

Legal pot may be causing an increase in work related injuries, suggests a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most affected are the hotel and entertainment professions with least risk in sectors with tight drug use controls. An earlier unpublished report also found high use of pot and related accidents in  the hotel industry in Kenya.

Professions employing people aged 18-25, such as in entertainment, hospitality, sports and media were most likely to attract higher use of marijuana where legalized.

The look-back report on the effects of legal marijuana in the US district of Colorado by CDC suggest an increase in work-related accidents.

Published in CDC’s Mobility and Mortality Weekly Report it shows some workplace protective measures need to be put in place to make legal marijuana safer.

CDC says employers and safety professionals in States where marijuana has been legalized are concerned over increased work related injuries, including car accidents.

“Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related deaths in the US with studies linking recent marijuana use to an increase in accidents,” says CDC.

Out of the 10,169 Colorado workers who participated in the study 14.6 per cent reported using pot, a third, the highest proportion aged 18-25.

The highest pot taking was found among employees who prepare and serve food in the hotel industry.

These were followed by workers in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media.

The lowest pot users in Colorado were employees in health care and technical people such as in utilities, mining and electricity. In these sectors however, there were stricter anti-drug use policies including routine compulsory screening.

Thirty two per cent of employee preparing and serving food in Colorado were found to use pot which is similar to what was found in a study at the Kenyan Coast.

In the last few months Kenya Parliament has been petitioned twice to legalize the use of marijuana.

In an unpublished study, Winfrida Milly Agumba with Kenyatta University sampled 400 workers from 25 star rated hotels at the coast and reported high use of drugs.

Almost half of the workers were aged 20 -30, with 35 per cent reporting having  used bhang compared to the national average of 9.9 per cent of pot users in Kenya.

The Kenya hotels report shows drug taking was highest in animation and entertainment, administration, food and beverage departments in that order.

Ninety per cent of entertainers reported using drugs due to what they said was a need for a high to enable peak performance.

Because of widespread use of drugs among the hotel workers the study reported high frequency of accidents related to drug use. Such included burns, falls, cuts, spills, quarrels and breakages.

“As a result the 25 hotels spent Sh1.2 million on workman’s compensation due to drug abuse -related accidents at the workplace per year,” says the study.

In a recently prepared guide on recreation pot the World Health Organisation (WHO) is categorical that non-medical marijuana is bad for human health.

Representing sub-Saharan Africa in preparing the document was Kenya’s top psychiatrist Prof David Ndetei of the University of Nairobi.

“There is need to tread carefully in this matter especially for a country with a weak medical infrastructure,” says Prof Ndetei.

In a study Prof Ndetei and others published in 2016, they reported high drug use among health workers in Kenya.

The study carried out in Nairobi, Machakos and Makueni showed 9.3 of health workers to use cannabis.

Drug use in this profession was highest in ages 20-29 with a fast increasing rate among women compared to men.

Determined to manage what it calls runaway drug problem among civil servants the government is currently rolling out the Public Service Substance Abuse Workplace Policy.

The policy was prepared last year under the then Cabinet Secretary for public service Sicily Kariuki who has since moved to health.

Introducing the policy, Kariuki says almost 60 per cent of public servants use drugs, much higher than the national average of 39.2 per cent.

“This is likely to hamper quality service delivery and realization of Vision 2030. Workplace substance abuse has the potential to negatively affect the health, safety and productivity of employees,” says Kariuki.

The policy prescribes zero tolerance to drug use in all government offices. “There shall be no substance trafficking, manufacturing and use at the workplace,” says the policy.

Managers and supervisors will have the authority to institute drug screening of suspect workers who if they do not co-operate could be sacked.

But the policy is encouraging workers to report substance use problems for full medical assistance with the public taking up the treatment bill.

A civil servant on drug use rehabilitation will however have to sign a ‘never again’ return to work agreement.

Pot is among the ‘never’ in government offices, a substances which the Kariuki policy says distorts the sense of time, impairs memory and coordination in users.

“Use of drugs is already hurting our agricultural production,” says Dr Kenneth Wameyo, a senior surgeon with the Kenya Veterinary Association.

An earlier study on the effects of substance abuse on the national agricultural sector by a private firm Log Associates shows 55 per cent of crop and 65 of livestock producers to be using drugs.

Bhang is the third most used drug in the agricultural sector at 6.5 per cent after alcohol and tobacco.

Pot the report for the agriculture ministry says is the drug of choice for men aged 15-24 who provide much of the labour to the sector.

The authors say most affected are government agriculture field officers especially the new staff posted from universities and colleges.

Drug experts though agree the highly informal transport sector, whose drug use is less studied but characterized in youthfulness, glamour and speed may become the bedrock of legal pot.

An unpublished study by Rose Wambui Matimu for the University of Nairobi on drug use in the matatu sector in Kiambu found most to be aged 21-25, with 60 per cent abusing drugs and 13 per cent to smoke pot.

At a glance

Kenya parliament petitioned to legalize bhang

Review of legal pot use in US Colorado shows has had some negative effects

Marijuana blamed for higher workplace accidents

Professions with workers aged 18-25 most affected

Highest use in hotel, entertainment and media industries

Lowest use among healthcare workers

In Kenya high use of drugs/pot in hotel industry 35 per cent

9.9 per cent of Kenya use pot

60 per cent civil servants use drugs

Government rolling out workplace drug policy with zero tolerance

9.3 per cent of Kenya health workers smoke pot

6.3 workers in agriculture use pot

13 per cent in matatu industry use bhang

WHO says no-medical use of pot is bad for health


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