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Changing drug laws: Make sure you’re in the driving seat

07 October 2013

Drug driving legislation introduced earlier this year and expected to come into force in 2014, allows police officers to perform a roadside saliva based drug test if they suspect a person’s driving has been influenced by drugs. Mark Burrup explains the implications for employers.


For employers whose employees are caught with certain controlled drugs in their system this could pose problems – not only in terms of staff being absent from work or unable to fulfil their duties, but the one year ban for a conviction may require recruitment and training of replacement employees. 

Judging by the numbers of enquiries Draeger Safety UK is receiving about drug and alcohol testing from large employers, clearly this legislation is focussing employers’ thoughts. 

Introducing a drug and alcohol policy into the workplace can help employers identify potential problems before they escalate. 

Health and Safety legislation means that employers have a duty of care to their employees and should be concerned about the general health and well-being of workers as a matter of course. But as well as covering yourself from a legal point of view, a drug and alcohol policy makes a lot of sense from a commercial perspective. The statistics speak for themselves. Studies from the US show that 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 - 44% will also sell to work colleagues. 

Unlike alcohol which can be smelt on the breath, employees who take drugs are much harder to spot. Training for managers and supervisors can help and there is also a guide available for employers on how to spot the signs and deal with drug misuse at work produced by the Health and Safety Executive.

If you don’t already have one - introducing a drug misuse policy can help avoid any misunderstandings regarding the company’s position on staff drug use. 
But for those companies where driving or safety critical jobs form a regular part of the work, drug and alcohol workplace testing schemes can be invaluable.

What should a drug testing policy include?
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. 
Whether all personnel are being tested or just safety critical staff, employees need to understand and support their employers’ rationale – equally, they should have the medium to long term benefits and effects of a policy fully explained to them as individuals. 

Human Resources 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.

Because employees with a drug problem have the same rights to confidentiality and support as those with any other physical or psychological condition, employers could be taken to industrial tribunal if they don’t try to help the employee. Numerous organisations offer training for employers on how to provide this support or alternatively the affected person’s GP should be able to direct them to help. For safety critical work the employee should be temporarily moved to another area until the issue is resolved. 

Should I screen for drugs to be sure?
For jobs which require an element of work-related driving there is certainly a case for considering the introduction of a drug screening programme.
However before introducing a programme employers should be clear when and how they want to carry out these tests. There are a number of options available which include:
• Testing prior to employment
• Random tests
• ‘Probable cause’
• Post incident
• As a condition of access for employees or contractors

There are also several ways of testing which include:
• Oral fluid
• Urine
• Hair
Pros and cons exist for all of these areas so employers need to ensure they weigh everything up before going ahead.
Mark Burrup is a drug and alcohol testing specialist at Draeger Safety.