Exploring the liability of sharing of medication in the workplace

BY CANDACE LOPES - SENIOR HEALTH & SAFETY CONSULTANT AT LABOURNET - MARCH 30, 2017
Exploring the liability of sharing of medication in the workplace

Winter is on its way, which means colds and flu. It is in this regard that we therefore explore the topic of sharing of medication in the workplace.

With employees often claiming that they do not have the time or money to visit the doctor or take sick leave, we see the trend of self-administering over the counter medications. In this regard, more often than not, we also witness the trend of sharing of medication between individuals. This in itself can be dangerous and open an organization up to severe liability implications.

There are two acts that should be considered with regards to the utilization and sharing of medication at the workplace. The first and foremost is the General Safety Regulations (GNR 1031 of 30May 1986) 2A – Intoxication which states;

  • GSR 2A (1) subject to the provisions of subregulation (3) an employer or user as the case may be, shall not permit any person who is or appears to be under the influence or intoxicating liquor or drugs , to enter or remain at the workplace; and
  • GSR 2A(3) An employer or user, as the case may be, shall, in the case where a person is taking medicines, only allow such persons to perform duties at the workplace if the side effects of such medicine do not constitute a threat to the health and safety of the person concerned or other persons at the workplace.

Therefore, in accordance to the above stated regulation, it can be interpreted as follows:

If employees at the workplace are taking undeclared medication, which side effects that cannot be deduced in relation to their physiology, that employee can present a risk to themselves or others around them.

In a practical scenario, if an individual were to take an over the counter drug such as Allergex 4mg, which is a Chlorpheniramine Maleate based Antihistamine, the listed warning is that the use of this particular medication can lead to drowsiness and users are not advised to drive vehicles or operate machinery as the drug may present the side effects of lassitude, dizziness and incoordination.

Additionally, Chlorpheniramine Maleate may produce epileptic seizures and the drug as a whole has additives that enhance the sedative effects of central nervous system antidepressants such as atropine and tricyclic antidepressants.

Allergex as well all know is the popular choice of drug for not only hay-fever, but colds and flu seasons, as most individuals would take it to dry up a runny nose. It is widely available, cost effective for the quantity packaged and easily shared.

This, consequently, places the company in a liability scenario, which means that if something were to happen to that employee as a direct or indirect result of taking the medication, the company will be held liable and be subject to prosecution for non-compliance to the regulation by the Department of Labour.

In addition, based on the seriousness of the consequent incident, the Department of Labour Inspector can also refer back to section 8 of the Occupational health and Safety Act 85 of 1993 – Duties of an employer subsection 1, which pertains to the onus of the employer to create a safe working environment for the employee.

The liability incurred and the cost of sharing medication was further emphasized by the Am Journal Article: Beyond Abuse and Exposure: Framing the Impact of Prescription-Medication Sharing by Richard. C Goldsworthy PhD et al.

The second law that needs to be considered is the Medicines and Related Substances Act 101 OF 1965 (Gazette No. 1171, Notice No. 1002 dated 7 July 1965. Commencement date: 1 April 1966 [Proc. No. 94, Gazette No. 1413] ad in particular General Regulations Made In Terms Of the Medicines and Related Substances Act 101 OF 1965, As Amended Government Notice R510 in Government Gazette 24727 dated 10 April 2003. Commencement date: 2 May 2003 (see regulation 50).

Section 18 pertains to the requirements of dispensing medication at the workplace and states:

18. License To Dispense Or Compound And Dispense Medicines

(1) As contemplated in section 22C (1) of the Act, a medical practitioner, dentist or any other person registered in terms of the Health Professions Act, 1974 (Act No. 56 of 1974), practitioner or nurse desiring to dispense or compound and dispense medicines shall apply to the Director-General for a license to dispense or compound and dispense medicines within his or her scope of practice.

(Regulation 18(1) substituted by regulation 11(a) of Government Notice R870 in Government Gazette 37032 dated 15 November 2013)

(2) An application referred to in subregulation (1) shall be accompanied by an application fee as determined by the Director-General.

(4) The application referred to in subregulation (1) may be submitted even before a supplementary course as contemplated in section 22C of the Act is completed, but a license may only be issued upon proof being furnished that such a course has been successfully completed and all the other requirements have been met.

 (8) A person referred to in subregulation (1) who has been issued with a license shall:

(a) Keep sales records either in hard copy or electronically relating to medicines compounded and dispensed for a period of 5 years from the date of sale;

(b) Ensure that the dispensary and any premises where medicines are kept are suitable for dispensing or compounding and dispensing in accordance with good pharmacy practice;

(c) Keep the medicines under the manufacturer’s recommended storage conditions as specified on the medicines label and or package insert;

(d) Not pre-pack medicines at the premises unless authorized to do so by the Director-General and in terms of regulation 33(a)(ii);

(e) Label medicines properly with the name of the patient and a reference number linking the patient to a patient record;

(f) Not compound and dispense medicines to patients unless the sale is preceded by a proper diagnosis and a prescription for a particular patient;

(g) Not keep expired medicines on the premises other than in a demarcated area in a sealed container clearly marked: EXPIRED MEDICINES and such expired medicines shall be destroyed in terms of regulation 27;

(h) Secure the premises where the compounding and dispensing is carried out whenever he or she is not physically present at those premises;

(i) In the event of a recall of a medicine, withdraw the medicine;

(j) Conspicuously display the license in the premises referred to in paragraph (b); and

(k) Comply with the conditions of his or her license.

In the scenario of a particular workplace, this relates to employees sharing medication with one another. Sharing medication between employees by the very definition relates to one employee (the holder of the medication) dispensing to the other employee(s).

Thus, if this is taking place, the holder or dispenser would need to comply with the dispensing laws stated above. Non-compliance to the law could very well place the company once more in a liability standing or subject to prosecution by both the Department of Health as well as the Department of Labour.

In conclusion, it is the strongest recommendation in the interest of preventing a liability scenario, that the company inform all employees of the above stated regulations and laws and immediately stop the dispensing of medication (sharing of medicine between employees) as well as have the employee control their own medication that they take for their varying ailments.

In addition, request, without having the employees disclose their medical status or conditions that the employees should volunteer in writing any and all hazardous side effects that their medication can have on them so that the organization can be aware of the inherent risks present.

For more information or advice, call Labournet Port Elizabeth on 041 373 2994 or visit www.labournet.com today.