Vertical Markets

Workplace drug testing

by Mark Rowe

Employers have responsibilities to their staff, especially for keeping them safe in the workplace. Legislation dictates many practices, but there is a grey area when it comes to alcohol and drug testing – which means many companies have out of date policies or simply don’t have one at all.

With the biennial European Workplace Drug Testing Society conference in London this month, employers have the opportunity to learn. Current regulations, the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work, give no specifics on alcohol and drug consumption, aside from determining that employers have the duty to protect staff. In addition, there has also been little in the way of new information coming from official sources in recent years.

But for those looking to formulate or update policies on testing, details of new research, technologies and innovations are available from speakers and companies attending the conference.

Gary McCutcheon, Head of Workplace Drug Testing at Eurofins Forensics, said: “We know from talking to employers that many have HR policies which might be 15 years out of date – things have moved on a great deal in that time which means the policies won’t reflect the current issues facing companies and their staff.

“Even more worrying is the proportion of companies which have no alcohol and drug policy at all – with statistics from the Home Office showing 11 per cent of adults had taken drugs in 2017/18, and over four per cent in the last month, it’s an issue which has the potential to affect any company.

“Cannabis is the most commonly used drug, followed by cocaine – but trends change all the time. New psychoactive substances (also known as NPS or, wrongly, ‘legal’ highs) are a real focus at the moment, and we know they are mostly a problem in prisons and among the homeless but actually statistics show less than one per cent of adults used them in 2017/18.

“We also know that what happens in society is generally reflected in workplaces – it would be naïve in the extreme to think drug use only occurs at the weekend. That’s why workplace drug testing and an up to date associated policy is crucial; particularly in industries such as security. Without it, if something were to go wrong, there can be significant reputational and financial damage, and of course physical harm.

“Employers risk prosecution following an incident if they knew an employee was under the influence of drugs or alcohol but allowed them to continue working. Security personnel needing to drive as part of their work would be governed by specific legislation, but of course effects such as irritability, aggression, confusion and concentration fluctuations could cause real problems if experienced by anyone working within the sector – and the impact on sickness absence and time keeping could have a profound effect, particularly within smaller companies or where there is a widespread issue.”

Gary spoke of how his firm looks for ways to simplify the logistics involved in testing as well as the methods – with a focus on workplace breath testing besides widely used urine, oral fluids and hair testing methods.

He added: “Testing should form part of a comprehensive policy that focuses on support. While it’s important employees aren’t undertaking certain tasks adversely affected by drugs or alcohol, which could endanger the safety of themselves or those around them, it’s also important to allow team members to feel comfortable disclosing if they have a problem, putting in place robust assistance including signposting towards relevant independent support.

“It’s not about punishing employees or controlling what they do outside of work – but where alcohol and drugs are impacting on workplace performance and safety, the company has a duty not only to keep them safe but also to try to help them tackle the problem.

“We know there are conflicting views on the use of testing – which is generally implemented pre-employment as part of the hiring process, at random or for a particular reason such as immediately following an accident. That’s why the forthcoming conference is so is a good opportunity to give employers access to a range of experts all under one roof.”

Eurofins Workplace Drug Testing is the lead sponsor of this year’s Society forum.

Visit for details, or visit to find out more about Eurofins Workplace Drug Testing.

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