Managers: Should You Test Workers For Drugs and Alcohol?

The misuse of drugs and alcohol is a serious concern in the workplace, not only for the person who is misusing the substance but also for colleagues and the public. The possession of some drugs is illegal, and other prescribed drugs and over-the-counter medicines have side effects which could affect safety. Alcohol can affect productivity, performance and safety. Both drugs and alcohol affect concentration and physical coordination, which can lead to dangerous behaviours.

In order to comply with legislation and to protect other employees and the public, it is imperative that employers understand the practical and procedural steps that might need to be taken.

How Can Occupational Health (OH) Services Help?

OH services can offer:

  • Immediate support and advice if a drug and/or alcohol issue arises
  • Help with risk assessment in the workplace and deciding whether testing is necessary
  • Advice about types of testing and information on best practices and suggest groups of workers who may need testing (e.g., train drivers, safety critical workers)
  • Information on how to develop a drug and alcohol policy
  • Guidance on the methods of drug testing (e.g., urine, breath, hair, saliva) and the implications of each process
  • Information about the resources that might be needed for the workplace (e.g., chain of custody, customising toilets, testing equipment, cost of testing)
  • Advice on when to undertake drug and/or alcohol tests (e.g., pre-placement testing, random testing, ‘for cause’ testing after incidents and compliance with rehabilitation programmes)
  • Guidance on referral routes for employees who admit to having a problem (e.g., local services, Alcoholics Anonymous).

What’s the Impact on Your Business?

Drug, alcohol and substance misuse is everyone’s concern. It damages health, causing absenteeism and reducing productivity. It may also increase the risk of accidents.

To encourage users to come forward, businesses should look to support affected employees and not punish them, in the first instance; however, you must make it clear that possession or dealing in drugs at work is never tolerated.

Some employers have decided to test workers for alcohol and/or drugs as part of a substance misuse policy. If you think you want to do the same, think carefully about what you want screening to do and what you do with the information it generates. It is also important to consider the testing process, type of testing, how samples are collected and possible contamination.

What’s the Impact on Your Workers?

Testing of workers for drugs and alcohol is a serious step to take, and it is not straightforward. Test results are not always straightforward, they are affected by:

  • Timing – when the last drink?
  • The different effects of drugs on people
  • The fact that some drugs cannot be tested for
  • Medications such as ibuprofen that can interfere with test results
  • The availability of testers when there is an incident
  • Whether you do a dip stick (instant) type test for drugs or send a sample to the laboratory for full testing (can take from 24 hours to five days)

Drug and alcohol problems should always be treated as a health problem in the first instance, and not a reason for disciplinary action. However, once a test has proved the presence of drugs or alcohol, the worker is usually subject to disciplinary action—that is, workers cannot claim a dependency and ask for help after testing.

A Manager's Guide to Health and Wellbeing at Work by Jane Coombs
Manager’s Guide to Health and Wellbeing at Work

Is There Any Law about Drug and Alcohol in the Workplace?

Working under the influence of drugs and alcohol is a serious safety issue, and a number of laws are applicable:

Further Advice On Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace

This is an extract from my latest book “The Manager’s Ultimate Guide to Health and Wellbeing at Work” available from the Amazon store, see more  by clicking here

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