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.
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”.
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:
Employers should adopt a substance misuse policy. 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 dismissing them.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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. Furthermore it is 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. You also need to set out whether all staff will be tested, or only certain categories of your employees.
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.
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?
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.
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.