The social and economic cost
of drug abuse in terms of crime, absenteeism and sickness is in
excess of £20 billion a year, according to Godfrey, Eaton,
McDougall and Culyer (2000).
The International Labour Organisation
ILO (2000) have given the following statistics, which will make
any self respecting manager sit up and take notice:
- Absenteeism is two to three
times higher for drug and alcohol users than for other employees;
- Employees with chemical dependence
problems may claim three times as many sickness benefits and
file five times as many workers' compensation claims;
- In many workplaces, 20 to
25 per cent of accidents at work involve intoxicated people
injuring themselves and innocent victims;
- On-the-job supplies of drugs
and alcohol account for 15 to 30 per cent of all accidents at
It is not just illegal substances
that can cause impaired performance at work. Certain prescription
only medicines and over the counter remedies can impair concentration
or cause drowsiness. Another legal substance that can significantly
affect workplace performance, is used by 90% of the adult population.
This substance is alcohol.
- An employer has a number
of legal duties to consider, when thinking about substance misuse
within the workplace and these include:
- Health and Safety
at Work etc Act 1974 poses general and specific duties to ensure,
as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and
welfare of their employees. If an employer knowingly allows
an employee under the influence of excess alcohol or drugs to
continue working and this places the employee or others at risk,
prosecution could result. Under this Act, employers have a duty
to ensure that any person is not unfit through drugs or alcohol
while working: Similarly, your employees are also required to
take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected
by what they do.
- Management of Health
and safety at Work Regulation 1999 impose requirements to assess
risks, protect workers health and ensure safe working environment.
This would include considering safety issues related to the
misuse of drugs and alcohol in the work place.
- Misuse of Drugs Act
1971 and subsequent amendments it is illegal for any employer
knowingly to permit the production, supply or use of controlled
substances on their premises except in specified circumstances
(e.g. when they have been prescribed by a doctor).
- Transport and Works
Acts 1992 applies to transport systems of any of the following
kinds; (a) a railway; (b) a tramway; and (c) a system which
uses another mode of guided transport. It is an office for persons
acting as drivers, guards, conductors or signalmen or in any
other capacity in which he can control or affect the movement
of a vehicle, or in a maintenance capacity or as a supervisor
in a maintenance capacity on a guided transport system to be
under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Employers must also be aware
that it is possible to fall foul of the
Human Rights Act 1998, if inappropriate screening takes place,
out side contractual and statutory obligations.
A one off drug and alcohol screen
is not the answer to a company's problems with a single employee
- it can create more legal headaches than cures! Indeed, random
testing must be random - it cannot be skewed to target individuals
or departments suspected of substance misuse.
Where drug and alcohol screening
is undertaken, there must be a policy in place, covering the following
- Frequency of testing e.g.
random, pre-employment, with cause
- Use of prescription and over
the counter remedies in the workplace
- What limits for substances
are imposed by the policy
- Training and information
has been given to everyone at all levels within an organisation
- Strategies in place for dealing
with positive results - rehabilitation or disciplinary measures?
- Details of resources for
those declaring problems
Where drug and alcohol testing
is undertaken, a full chain of custody procedure is used. This
protects the integrity of the employee, the employer and the person
obtaining the sample. It is a legally defensible procedure, complete
with quality controls in built. Chain of custody sampling is undertaken
on urine samples and the results are available on the same day
as the laboratory has received them. A full chain of custody procedure
varies in length from 20 minutes to half an hour per employee.
The following substances can
be tested for:
- Opiates (heroin)
Chain of custody sampling CANNOT
be undertaken when the employee concerned has no photographic
proof of identity e.g. passport or photocard driving licence.
Safe OH & S can offer site based statutory health surveillance
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