A recent article published in The Times reopened the debate surrounding tackling drug addiction, with William Hague claiming that “Decriminalising drugs is the only way forward [in treating drug addiction]”. Whilst we are not in a position to say whether the decriminalisation of drugs is the best way forward, we do have a strong opinion on there being other, less controversial, avenues which we believe should be explored. Namely, early detection of drug use in the workplace.
Why test for drugs and alcohol in the workplace?
There is a common misconception that most drug addicts are outcasts, antisocial people who conduct criminal activity to support their addiction. Others believe that drug and alcohol addictions are purely a health issue and addicts should be treated in the health system as people suffering from a disease. Yet most drug users are in employment and are not easy to identify until their addiction becomes severe. Those people function in similar, if not the same, ways as non-addicts: they have families, they turn up to work every day, and they have roofs over their heads.
By using hair sample testing in workplaces as part of company health and well-being initiatives, we believe we can help detect regular users in the early stages of addiction and help, with the right support, prevent those people from later becoming serious addicts.
The reluctance to test
Many companies view drug and alcohol testing negatively. Common views are that it’s not their problem, or ‘what employees do in their own time is not the company’s business’. Our view is that many drug and alcohol addicts within the workplace are not a problem until they - almost inevitably - start to use too much, which can lead to serious problems in a work environment.
We are aware of organisations that carry out routine drug and alcohol testing, deliberately conducting finger-prick blood tests on days that will avoid drug and alcohol use ‘hangovers’ and thus show negative results. We are also aware that some companies do not wish to adopt regular testing to avoid having to deal with positive cases, or through fear of losing a team member and therefore losing vital skills and incurring costly recruitment fees.
The pluses of workplace drug and alcohol testing
We do not condone the notion of testing being used as a stick with which to beat employees. We believe testing can be the start of a positive action that leads to improving employees’ health, welfare and performance.
The key benefits of carrying out drug and alcohol tests in the workplace include:
Employee safety – the most important reason for testing in the workplace is the safety of all staff – particularly if they are operating machinery, dealing with security, driving HGVs etc.
Duty of care to others – can employees carry out their role if they are regularly taking drugs or drinking heavily at the weekend or during the working week? Early detection of regular drug and alcohol use will allow companies to protect staff and those they are working with.
Reputation – being the first to know that an employee is a regular drug or alcohol user allows you to manage the situation before external parties intervene, thus avoiding the potentially negative impact of that intervention on your company reputation.
How can companies implement drug and alcohol testing?
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees. As such, many companies develop wellness initiatives and polices which include regular staff testing. Companies may choose to start by testing new recruits using a hair sample test that would identify any drug or alcohol use in the previous three months. Some recruitment firms may have already tested potential candidates and companies may choose to continue testing on a regular basis.
It is our assertion that incorporating drug and alcohol testing within a company health and wellbeing scheme would enable early detection of drug and alcohol misuse that could lead to more effective prevention in the long run.
If your business is considering implementing workplace testing, we advise that you speak to a reputable testing laboratory for advice. For more information about early detection, drugs and alcohol testing in the workplace, or methods of testing, please get in touch.
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