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Drug Trust v Drug Testing

The level of habitual drug use and abuse in today’s society is really quite depressing. I’m not talking about popping aspirins to deal with a hangover or the more extreme cases like Lance Armstrong, about whom I wrote recently.

Despite the Government’s best efforts, it’s a sad reality that many young people still see the use of non-prescription drugs as the “bad man” thing to do. In many secondary schools, you only have to go round the back of the bike sheds during lesson time to see the evidence.

But it’s not only young people who are regularly indulging in drug use. Those who misuse drugs at a young age are more likely to continue with the habit as they get older, and there’s a developing trend for older people (who have had a relatively drug-free past) are starting to misuse drugs as they reach middle age. The most likely age group to test positive for Class A drugs is the 25 to 34 year-olds as they are more likely to work and have access to disposable income.

According to a report last year, more than a million workers have drugs in their system, whilst the number of survey applicants that tested positive rose by nearly 50% between 2007 and 2011. ACAS found that a third of employers report alcohol and drug misuse to be a big problem at work - and that’s just those that know it is happening!

At the end of January, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Chief Bernard Hogan-Howe suggested mandatory drug testing should be introduced at work for a number of staff categories, particularly teachers, intensive care nurses and transport staff. He suggested that the drug testing of employees and the consequent fear of losing their jobs would act as a deterrent.

Some industries, such as rail and maritime, already carry out mandatory drug tests as a regulatory requirement. In other sectors, many employers have a clause in their contracts of employment or employee handbook, which already gives them the right to carry out drug and alcohol testing. Employees who misuse drugs are not only putting their own lives at risk, but that of others’ too, and under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and associated regulations, employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment. This includes for example, not knowingly allowing an employee to work when impaired by alcohol or illegal drugs.

If the level of non-prescription drug usage is as high as it seem, random mandatory testing seems a logical step. But there has been some opposition to Sir Bernard’s suggestion. Questions arise as to whether mandatory drug tests could be a violation of privacy under the Human Rights Act 1988 for example. Other issues relate to testing reliability; a positive result could ruin a worker’s career so having 100% confidence in the results is vital.

It’s a fine line between drug testing for safety and invasion of privacy, so if you are considering introducing drug testing, consult with your workers and agree the way forward with them. If they’re on board with the process and understand the underpinning rationale, they’re far more likely to support the policy. Take expert advice about the testing and invest in a reliable process. Make sure that if a worker does come to you advising of a drink or alcohol problem you build in some help to enable him to take steps to recover and enable rehabilitation.

If you need advice on this delicate and difficult area, give us a call.

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