Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at

May 2, 1998

Mr. Patrick J. Robinson
Safety Coordinator
Starline Manufacturing Co., Inc.
6060 West Douglas Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53218-1561

Dear Mr. Robinson:

This is in response to your letter dated April 9, to Gerald Cunningham, Area Director, Milwaukee Area Office. You requested clarification of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) viewpoint of providing a safe work environment, specifically related to workers performing work under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs. Your letter was forwarded to us from the Milwaukee Area Office to answer.

In your letter you asked the following questions:

Question 1. Does OSHA believe that an employer has a duty to provide a workplace free of employees performing assigned duties with mechanical machinery under the intoxicating influence of alcohol or under the influence of illicit drugs?

Response: OSHA strongly supports measures that contribute to a drug-free environment and reasonable programs of drug testing within a comprehensive workplace program for certain workplace environments, such as those involving safety-sensitive duties like operating machinery. Such programs, however, need to also take into consideration employee rights to privacy.

Question 2. If so, has OSHA been in a position to enforce such a viewpoint?

Response: Although OSHA supports workplace drug and alcohol programs, at this time OSHA does not have a standard. In some situations, however, OSHA's General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, may be applicable where a particular hazard is not addressed by any OSHA standard.

Citations for violation of the General Duty Clause are issued to employers when the four components of this provision are present, and when no specific OSHA standard has been promulgated to address the recognized hazard. The four components are: (1) the employer failed to keep its workplace free of a "hazard;" (2) the hazard was "recognized" either by the cited employer individually or by the employer's industry generally; (3) the recognized hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and (4) there was a feasible means available that would eliminate or materially reduce the hazard. An employer's duty will arise only when all four elements are present.

Question 3. Generally speaking, what steps would be deemed reasonable in attempting to provide an alcohol/drug free workplace?

Response: On April 12, 1996 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released a study of drug abuse among U.S. workers. An announcement of this study may be found on the DHHS Internet website [at] The DHHS announcement (copy enclosed) gives an 800 number for employers to call for guidance and technical assistance in setting up a substance abuse prevention program. This service is free and available to all employers during regular working hours in both English and Spanish languages. The number is: 800-WORKPLACE.

An employer's trade association, or workers' compensation insurance company may also be able to give helpful advise. Any educational/training activity that helps employers and employees become aware of the dangers of working under the influence of alcohol, illicit drugs, and even some over-the-counter and prescription medications would be a good first step.

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. If we can be of further assistance, please contact Helen Rogers of my staff at (202) 219-8031 x106.


John B. Miles, Jr., Director
[Directorate of Enforcement Programs]


[Corrected 10/22/2004. The referenced DHHS document is now archived. Please see the Department of Health and Human Services Topic Index for a list of web sites that have additional information on Substance Abuse.]


Date: Friday, April 12, 1996
Contact: Terri Gates, SAMHSA, (301) 443-8956


New Initiative Will Target Industries Needing Prevention Efforts

The Department of Health and Human Services today released a first-time report examining illicit drug use by U.S. workers. The report estimates prevalence and trends in drug abuse, as well as alcohol abuse, by occupation and industry categories.

The report, based on a new detailed analysis of the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, finds that use of illicit drugs has declined by more than half among American workers since the mid-1980s. However, when broken down by industry and occupation, the analysis shows wide variation in the extent of illicit drug use and alcohol abuse among workers.

HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala released the new report at a business-labor-government meeting, saying the report "helps show us where our next steps must be taken." She announced a new partnership initiative to target drug and alcohol abuse prevention efforts, especially in industries where abuse rates are still high.

"This report is a milestone in our efforts against substance abuse," Secretary Shalala said at the Teaming Up for Prevention Forum in Washington, D.C. "It tells us that we've made very real and substantial progress since the mid-1980s. It tells us that prevention strategies are reaching employees, especially those in positions of public trust and public safety. But it also tells us we need to do more, and we need to team up with labor and management, in a number of industries."

Shalala said a new "targeted, worker-oriented initiative will be part of the Clinton administration's broadscale efforts to reduce and prevent substance abuse in America."

The new report, "Drug Use Among U.S. Workers: Prevalence and Trends by Occupation and Industry Categories," was produced by HHS' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The new analysis of the Household Survey covers data from 1991 to 1993 on drug and alcohol use among full- and part-time U.S. workers, aged 18-49. It was undertaken to provide information to help tailor prevention, intervention and treatment efforts for occupations and industries most affected by drug use.

The Household Survey data shows that among full-time employees, the portion reporting illicit drug use in the month prior to interview decreased from 16.7 percent in 1985 to 7.0 percent in 1992. The lower levels have remained steady since 1992, according to SAMHSA data.

The report finds that:


  • Workers in occupations that require a considerable amount of public trust, such as police officers, teachers and child care workers, report the lowest rates of illicit drug use.
  • The highest rates of illicit drug use were reported by workers in the following occupations: construction, food preparation, and waiters and waitresses.
  • Workers in occupations that impact public safety, including truck drivers, fire fighters and police, report the highest rate of participation in drug testing.

Other highlights include:



  • Heavy alcohol use rates were highest among construction workers, as well as auto mechanics, food preparation workers, light truck drivers and laborers. The lowest rates of heavy alcohol use were reported by data clerks, personnel specialists and secretaries.
  • Broken down by sex of the worker, males in the following occupations reported the highest rates of illicit drug use: entertainers, food preparation and service, cleaning services and construction. Among females, the highest rates of illicit drug use were reported by workers involved in food preparation, social workers, and the legal professions, including lawyers and legal assistants. (However, in each of these occupations, males reported similar levels of illicit drug use.)
  • In general, unmarried workers reported about twice the rate of illicit drug and heavy alcohol use as married workers. In occupations such as food preparation, transportation drivers, and mechanics, and in industries such as construction and machinery (not electrical), the discrepancy between married and unmarried workers was especially notable.
  • Workers who reported having three or more jobs in the previous five years were about twice as likely to be current or past year illicit drug users as those who had two or fewer jobs.
  • About 13 percent of full-time workers, ages 18-49, reported past year involvement in a mandatory drug test at work.

Secretary Shalala also announced the new partnership initiative to help employers implement substance abuse prevention programs and policies. "This is an area where new efforts are needed — as part of President Clinton's comprehensive drug strategy that includes interdiction, law enforcement, prevention, treatment, drug testing and research," Shalala said.

The initiative will include special efforts to help small businesses protect their employees from substance abuse, and HHS plans to work with the Department of Labor and the Small Business Administration on the partnership initiatives.

"Small businesses are the engine of a growing economy, so it is critical that all of us work to help prevent drug abuse among their workers. The fact is, small businesses are less likely to provide substance abuse information for employees, to have a written policy on substance abuse, and to provide access to employee assistance programs for drug and alcohol use. Many smaller businesses often don't have the resources to develop substance abuse prevention programs. This is where our efforts are needed most."

Secretary Shalala said employers can call 1-800-WORKPLACE for guidance and technical assistance. The service is free and available during regular working hours in both English and Spanish languages.

According to Nelba Chavez, Ph.D., administrator of SAMHSA, "Reaching out to employers is an essential part of our overall strategy to prevent substance abuse. Employers are much more than an economic force in their communities -- they influence families and community values. In addition, most Americans access their health care through their employers. Business and labor can ensure that prevention and early intervention remain options for their employees and families."

RADIO STATIONS NOTE: Actualities from HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala available April 12 on HHS Radio Hotline at 1-800-621-2984 or 202-690-8317.