Suzannah Robin explains what an employer’s obligations are when it comes to drugs in the workplace and describes the best methods for testing staff
With the introduction in recent years of roadside drug testing, and the surge in drug-related accidents at work, employers are coming under increasing pressure to ensure their staff are fit to work, and that health and safety aren’t compromised as a result of an individual being impaired.
According to a survey carried out in 2015 by protecting.co.uk on employees from a range of sectors, nearly a third of them admitted using drugs at work, with a significant number of them claiming to be ‘under the influence’ every working day. In fact, many of those admitting to taking drugs were using cannabis or other illegal narcotics.
Although there is still no legal requirement for an employer to adopt a drug or alcohol testing policy, they do have an obligation to maintain a safe working environment as part of the Health & Safety at Work Act – and, as these statistics prove, drugs could certainly be an issue in any workplace if practices for detecting misuse aren’t implemented.
If carried out with the proper guidance and training, a drug testing policy will not only make your workplace safer, it will also help to reduce absenteeism and increase worker productivity. But how do you know what makes a good drug testing policy?
Drug tests – know the pros and cons
With numerous options available, it isn’t always immediately apparent which drug-testing method will be the most suitable for meeting your company’s requirements. The first step before making any commitments to using a certain testing method is to fully understand the pros and cons for each type of drug test available. So whilst you may already have an idea about what drug testing method you will use, understanding the various benefits and restrictions of each version will truly help you to establish which one will be the most suitable for your requirements.
One of the most popular choices for drug testing – but not always the most effective – is testing urine samples. For many years, these have been used as a reliable and cost-effective form of drug testing providing instant results that can be undertaken in-house.
However, whilst urine tests are ideal for implementing random testing policies, and can help to prevent incidents from happening in the first place, this form of testing is not without its limitations. For example, a urine test will often not reveal if an individual has consumed drugs in the last two hours. So, in the event that an incident occurred in the workplace, a urine test obtained immediately afterwards will not determine if the employee was impaired by drugs at the time the incident actually took place.
Blood testing is the most accurate method of establishing what drugs are in a person’s system – but the medical training and laboratory analysis required can mean it is beyond the reach for company testing. Hair testing can give you historic data of what drugs a person has consumed – but not from the most recent few weeks.
For this reason, oral fluid collection has been established as the go-to method of drug-testing. With a far simpler collection process, which can be observed at all times and is therefore less susceptible to tampering, the window of detection for the drugs in saliva mimics that of blood testing making it the method of choice for UK Police roadside testing, and companies implementing drug screening policies.
To test or not to test?
One of the things that concerns companies from the outset is how their employees are going to react to a new testing policy being introduced. Of course, there may be some reluctance from staff so employers should always communicate clearly with them before introducing new policies, encouraging staff to declare any medical or dependency issues that could potentially affect a drug test. Ensuring your workforce fully understand the rationale behind the decision, and what the potential consequences of a positive test result will be are pivotal to operating a best practice policy.
But how often should you test?
As a minimum, companies should aim to test 100 per cent of their workforce every 12 months. A pre-employment test will set in place the expectations for new staff joining the company, establishing from day one the company policy on drugs in the workplace. The policies and testing methods used subsequently would then depend on your day-to-day business activities and employees’ duties. For example, a company that employs commercial drivers should always have a regular testing policy in place for both drugs and alcohol.
Why random testing?
Random testing will enable an employer to form a basic consent agreement with their staff, acting as a deterrent, and encouraging them to be more aware of what they are consuming and how this could have an impact on their lives, and those around them. In turn, it will create a safer, healthier and more stable working environment and safeguard your business from the potential fallout of lost revenue and reputational damage.
Best practice policy and training
Alongside setting a drug testing policy for your business is the question of exactly how it will be put into practice on a day-to-day basis. Whilst knowledge and information is essential to determining appropriate testing methods, properly training personnel to carry out tests is absolutely essential for making sure that they are fully prepared and capable of working within the recommended guidelines. This is particularly important in the event that a member of staff provides a positive result and this information is going to be relied upon for a future disciplinary or tribunal hearing.
Suzannah Robin is a drug and alcohol safety expert at AlcoDigital. She works with dozens of corporate and governmental organisations addressing their alcohol and drugs testing needs. AlcoDigital operates Alcohol and Drugs Testing in the Workplace training courses for companies across the UK. To find out more, or review a list of available dates and locations, please visit