In September, the Cansford Labs team travelled to the ICC-Birmingham for the much anticipated IOSH 2019 conference.
Hosted by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, this year’s event was called “Take the Next Step’’ and had a strong focus on creating resilient teams through cultivating workplace wellbeing strategies.
After listening to the presentations, attending seminars and manning our event stand, Here are our four key takeaways from the two-day conference.
1. There’s a growing focus on mental health as part of a ‘culture of care’
Supporting workers’ mental health is a key trend in HR. Companies are using wellbeing strategies, which cover both the physical and mental health of employees, to enhance their ‘employer brand’, positioning themselves as responsible and caring employers.
At IOSH 2019, Abigail Hirshman’s (Head of Mental Health and Wellbeing at Acas) insightful session on managing psychosocial risk included a series of practical steps on how to promote mental health in the workplace. The talk explored the rise of mental health problems in the workplace and the various responsibilities of employers, employees and managers.
While the ISOH 2019 presentations didn’t talk about substance misuse in the context of workplace wellbeing, more and more employers are making the connection...
2. Employers are increasingly aware of a workplace drugs problem
From our talks with employer representatives, it is clear that more employers are looking at drugs and alcohol testing, because they employ people in safety critical roles - or they know there is a problem and need to address it.
However, not all employers know what steps to take to tackle the issue and are sitting on their hands. But this could be shoring up problems for the future.
The 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act states that employers have a legal responsibility to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees while at work. In addition to this, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1974, clearly stipulates that it’s a legal offence for anyone to knowingly permit the use or supply of drugs on their premises.
3. In certain sectors, employers are implementing workplace drug policies and drug testing
Employers within certain sectors, especially those within the public and education sectors, are recognising the value of having a drug and alcohol policy which includes drug testing. For example, from speaking to delegates at IOSH, we found that universities in particular are showing an increased interest in adopting a workplace drug policy, if they have not got one already.
This may be a reflection of the increasing scrutiny that universities have come under in recent years surrounding the misuse of drugs by students. An increase in the availability and use of psychoactive substances, and use of social media channels such as Snapchat and Instagram to sell drugs, have led to many universities taking steps to clamp down on drug use.
For example, the University of Buckingham recently announced plans to become the UK’s first drug-free university by forcing students to sign a contract stating that they would not take any drugs on campus. Breaking the contract could lead to immediate expulsion.
4. The mindset around workplace drug testing is changing... but only slowly
Despite growing awareness about the impact of substance misuse on the workplace, drug testing is still seen as very much the exception rather than the norm. This is unsurprising given the fact that only 21% of UK employers have a stringent drug and alcohol policy in place.
It is telling that IOSH still doesn’t recommend drug testing policies as standard practice. However, our conversations at IOSH 2019 lead us to believe that as more employers recognise the far-reaching implications of substance abuse in the workplace, attitudes towards drug testing are set to change. This is due to a subtle but noticeable shift towards viewing drug and alcohol policies as part of the strategy for promoting a culture of care within the work environment and improve the wellbeing of all employees.
Overall, our time at IOSH 2019 taught us that awareness around drug and alcohol misuse in the workplace is increasing. More employers are recognising the complexities of substance abuse and the damage it can cause - and more employers are prepared to do something about it. But what we really need is a change in mindset where the impact of drug misuse is seen in the wider context of workplace wellbeing.
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