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Hot topic: drug tests at work

A third of employers say alcohol and drug misuse is a problem at work, according to Acas. Substance misuse can have a damaging impact on workplace productivity, as problems don’t just affect performance of individuals, but their colleagues as well.

In extreme cases, substance misuse can also risk serious harm from accidents and injuries. With drug driving legislation soon to become a reality, drug and alcohol testing has emerged as an issue for employers and many are considering the options.

Steve Wilkinson, law enforcement specialist at Draeger Safety UK

We have received, and are actively dealing with, enquiries about drug and alcohol testing from employers across the UK - ranging from medium-sized companies to some of the largest organisations.

If introduced later this year, drug driving laws will mean UK police forces will have the ability to test for drugs in saliva. From a corporate perspective, employees caught with certain drugs in their system could face fines, a driving ban or even a jail term.

This leaves employers to pick up the pieces, both in terms of cost and damage to reputation. Introducing a drug and alcohol policy into the workplace could help employers identify problems before they escalate.

Health and safety legislation means employers have a duty of care to employees and should be concerned about the general health and wellbeing of staff. As well as covering themselves from a legal point of view, a drug and alcohol policy makes a lot of sense from a commercial perspective. Statistics speak for themselves. US studies show employees using drugs are less productive, take more time off work and are almost four times as likely to have an accident in the workplace.

Worryingly, the studies show nearly half will also 'sell on' those drugs to other work colleagues. The 'snowball effect' is there for all to see.

But before introducing a drug and alcohol testing policy, we would recommend employers consult with their workforce or union to get staff buy-in at all levels. Employees need to understand and support employers' rationale. Equally, staff should have the medium to long-term benefits and effects of a policy - to them as individuals - fully explained.

HR and policy-makers need to be careful to communicate the type of testing they plan to carry out, what they are testing for and the consequences of a positive test, to ensure there are no nasty surprises for staff.

Robin Jull, group health and safety manager at Lenham Storage

I believe alcohol and drugs have no place in the workplace, unless required for a medical condition.

We adopt a zero-tolerance approach to drugs and alcohol, whereby anyone at work with a quantity of alcohol or a specific listed drug in their system would be committing an offence, sent home and subjected to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.

The reason behind implementing this particular policy is that is a means of enforcing health and safety onsite. At my organisation, Lenham Storage, we operate a clear policy - and for the safety of our own employees we carry out random and, where necessary, for-cause testing.

We use drugs and alcohol testing kits on staff.

Both testers give an instant digital display of results, allowing us to deal with the situation, letting us print off the results and provide the employee with the findings.

The policy of zero tolerance to alcohol and drugs is written in the employee's employment contract and it is also explained to them personally in detail on their induction training day.

The use of alcohol and drugs socially may have no direct effect on the person's work, but if a person comes to work under the influence, it will impair their performance and can lead to them taking risks - or putting others at risk.

It can also affect behaviour, having an impact on staff morale and productivity.

As part of a well-run, drug-free workplace policy, employers can reap benefits in the form of increased staff productivity, higher profits, better customer satisfaction, improved employee health status and better morale.

Workplace drug testing can also contribute to lowered incidences of employee absenteeism, accidents and injuries.