Drug & Alcohol Screening in the Workplace

Drug & Alcohol Screening, Why You Need it For Your Employees

Posted By Kerry Budworth on 2015-09-27 10:25

The impetus to institute Drug & Alcohol Screening at Work Has Increased Since March, Here's Why

Since March 2015 new legislation has been introduced in relation to drug driving. The new rules run alongside the existing law, under which it is an offence to drive when impaired by any drug. The new regulations set low levels for the eight illegal drugs, with higher levels set for eight prescription drugs, including morphine and methadone. The law has been introduced in such a way that those using prescription drugs that have been prescribed to them within recommended amounts will not be penalised.

Introduction of drugalysers at the roadside

Where this new policy will be most visible is at roadside stops. Police will now be able to use "drugalysers" to screen for cannabis and cocaine at the roadside. If the Police have a suspicion of drug use, officers will also be able to test for these and other drugs including ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and heroin at a police station. The law will allow them to do so, even if a driver passes the roadside check.

As part of this strategy, new devices that can test for a greater number of drugs at the roadside are to be developed in the future. The new rules will make prosecutions for drug driving much easier than before and any exposure to the drugs covered would render people over the limit. Not just that, their over the limit status would possibly last for up to 36 hours.

Prescription drugs affected by new rules

The situation for people who use prescription drugs has not changed though, but the onus will be firmly on the individual to assure themselves that their driving ability is not impaired.It is also recommended that drivers who take prescription drugs carry proof so they could produce it at the roadside if needed. This will save time and hassle.

Prescription drugs covered by the new law

  • Clonazepam is prescribed to treat seizures or panic disorders
  • Diazepam is used for anxiety disorders, alcohol withdrawal symptoms or muscle spasms
  • Flunitrazepam (also known as Rohypnol) is a sedative originally used in hospitals for deep sedation in the 1970s
  • Lorazepam is used to treat convulsions or seizures caused by epilepsy
  • Oxazepam is used to relieve anxiety, including anxiety caused by alcohol withdrawal
  • Temazepam affects chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced and cause insomnia problems
  • Methadone is used in the treatment of heroin addiction and for pain relief
  • Morphine or opiates treat moderate to severe pain

Why should you care as an employer?

Simply put under the current health and safety legislation you are responsible to ensure a safe place of work and safe systems of work for your staff. If you employ drivers for your business, your responsibilities extend far beyond the physical confines of your business as does your liability. If an accident occurs on the road and one of your employees fails a drugalyser test, there will be little defence for your business. Even if there isn't an accident if one of your drivers is stopped for a random test and fails. It means one of your trucks is off the road and perhaps impounded. Let's look at the current health and safety legislation.

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, your legal position

It is simple, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty to ensure a safe place of work and safe systems of work for their staff. When applied to drug and alcohol misuse, this includes having clear rules about coming to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It also includes having rules pertaining to the use of alcohol or drugs while at work. However, under the act, there is no strict requirement to carry out testing of staff.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

As an employer, you should also be aware of duties under the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Transport and Works Act 1992. It says "Drivers of road vehicles must not be under the influence of alcohol while driving, attempting to drive or when they are in charge of a vehicle. Certain rail, tram and other guided transport system workers must not be unfit through drink while working on the system. The operator of such a system must exercise all due diligence to avoid those workers being unfit".

It also says "You should also be aware of duties under the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Transport and Works Act 1992. Drivers of road vehicles must not be under the influence of drugs while driving, attempting to drive or when they are in charge of a vehicle. Certain rail, tram and other guided transport system workers must not be unfit through drugs while working on the system". Again, you as an employer are responsible to exercise all due diligence to avoid these workers being unfit.  

Key messages for the employer

The misuse of alcohol can be a direct cause of reduced productivity, taking time off work, and accidents at work. Employers should adopt an alcohol policy, in consultation with their staff. This should include matters such as:

  1. how the organisation expects employees to limit their drinking;
  2. how problem drinking will be recognised and help offered; and
  3. at what point and in what circumstances you will treat an employee's drinking as a matter for discipline rather than as a health problem.

Drug and other substance (e.g. solvent) misuse is a major concern. In the context of work, not only does it damage the health of the person using, but it can also contribute to absenteeism, increased risk of accidents and reduced productivity.

Again, employers should adopt a substance misuse policy, in consultation with their staff. This policy should aim to support affected employees rather than punish them, though your policy must say that possession or dealing in drugs at work will be reported immediately to the Police. If an employee admits to being a drug user, your policy should seek to help them rather than lead simply to dismissing them.

The case for drug and alcohol screening in the workplace

With your statutory obligations in mind and the introduction of the new legislation in March, there is a strong case for drug and alcohol screening in the workplace as part of your health and safety policy, in particular where you employ drivers. However, it is important that you assess all of the implications of such a strategy. As an employer, you need to think very carefully about what you want screening to do, and what you will do with the information it generates.

It is also important to consider the drug testing process itself including the type of testing, how the sample is collected and the security of the sample from contamination. Good advice is available from the European Workplace Drug Testing Society (EWDTS) to ensure the drug testing process is reliable and accurate. Beyond that, there are other implications you need to consider including industrial relations implications of introducing a drug and alcohol screening in the workplace process. Let's look at them:


First, establish whether testing is justified for your business

Drug and alcohol screening is intrusive by its nature. As an employer, you must have a good reason to justify a policy of testing staff. You should also be ready to show that you have considered all options including any less intrusive means of monitoring employees.

Clear Justification for drug & alcohol screening at work needs to be shown

Random testing of employees is only likely to be justifiable if there is a strong health and safety reason to support it. Such reasons would be employees working in mines, operating heavy machinery or driving company vehicles. You need to consider this carefully a blanket approach cannot be taken. For instance, it would be much harder to justify testing for employees who are office-based. This is simply because there is a lower risk of danger to life in their day to day activities.

Protect yourself with an impact assessment

An impact assessment will enable you to ascertain the impact the policy would have on employees as against the benefits that would be obtained for your business. The impact statement is a proof of process undertaken, it is also a proof of concept for your drug and alcohol screening strategy. It can show that the policy was only implemented after the benefits for your business were found to outweigh the impact on your staff.

Policy planning

This is not a policy that you introduce on a whim, full planning needs to be undertaken. You should clearly set out what data you wish to obtain and who you wish to obtain it from. It is also important that you consider how you will keep such sensitive personal data and how it will be used.

In accordance with the data protection act, the amount of personal information gathered should be kept to a minimum, and the least intrusive means of testing possible should be employed. You also need to set out whether all staff will be tested, or only certain categories of your employees.

It is imperative that you consult with staff, they should be given several weeks’ warning that the policy will be introduced. The onus is on you to explain exactly why you are introducing the policy. You should also make it clear to employees what the consequences of failure to comply to the policy will be. Employees should be afforded the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the policy in person with direct management.

Be prepared for a positive result

What happens if an employee fails screening? What are you going to do if you discover that one of your employees is dependant on alcohol and/or drugs? As an employer will need to decide what its approach to a positive screening, how are you to move forward? 

Above all, proceed with caution!

You need to proceed with caution, a programme of random drug testing should only be used where it is appropriate. The appropriateness of your strategy will be measured against the nature of your business and the roles undertaken by the employees tested. As we have said, unless the employees to be tested operate heavy machinery or work in an environment where working under the influence of drugs could cause injury to themselves, colleagues or customers, or could seriously damage your business, such a policy could be contrary to the Employment Practices Code.

Guidance about drug and alcohol testing is also contained in the Employment Practices Code (“EPC”). This sets out the circumstances in which testing would be deemed justified, and the good practice procedure to follow if you do decide to implement testing. 

Drug & Alcohol Screening in The Workplace in Leicester & Across The UK

At HealthScreen we offer drug and alcohol screening in the workplace, our system is easy to institute and we offer advice and assistance to you on how you can implement your policy. If you are interested, or if you would just like to ask a few questions or get some information, call us on 01455 234 600 or contact us online now. 

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