Many businesses underestimate just how widespread substance abuse is. Around 1 in 12 adults aged 16 – 59 have used drugs in the last year. When we narrow the demographic to 16 – 24 years, that figure rises to 1 in 5.
The fact that 30 million of us also consume alcohol on a frequent basis means your business is probably already affected by substance use, whether you know it or not.
This has legal implications under Common Law and The Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974, The Transport and Works Act of 1992 and The Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971. The Health and Safety at Work Act makes it illegal, for instance, to knowingly allow an employee who is ‘under the influence’ to continue their working day.
Employers also bear the financial costs of lost productivity, reduced morale, hiring cover and recruiting replacement staff when their staff abuse drugs and alcohol.
- You may also like: Building a history of substance use: How hair testing can help
The risks are great and the problems are palpable. So why do many organisations choose to not test their employees for drugs (prescription and otherwise) and alcohol?
Heads in the sand
For business owners with lots on their plate, an issue like staff substance abuse can be intimidating, as it can create new problems down the line.
The prevailing argument among employee rights organisations is that drug testing negatively affects morale. It could upset employees who aren’t using, who might feel like they aren’t trusted. This can contribute to a higher turnover rate among employees, which is especially damaging for businesses reliant on seasonal staff in busy periods.
How drug and alcohol policies affect senior staff is another consideration. The highest earners – those earning £40,000 or more annually – are twice as likely to binge drink compared to those earning less. A strict policy might, therefore, cost a business’ most talented employees.
Agitation is also a concern for organisations with unionised staff. Many major unions – including UNITE – actively oppose drug testing in the workplace. Attempts to implement drug testing may derail delicate negotiations.
Finally, there’s the affordability question. Drug testing is an expense many businesses believe they could do without. It’s often simpler and cheaper to ignore the issue.
What’s the solution?
The question around workplace testing can appear to trap managers between a rock and hard place. Don’t apply due diligence and your business could be exposed to unnecessary risk. Do perform tests and you could damage employee morale.
The solution is effective drug and alcohol policy-making which meets the needs of both employees and employers. This should encourage a shift in workplace culture, where testing is viewed as a safeguard and not a burden.
An effective drug and alcohol policy should be robust and relevant to the organisation in question. If your employees use machinery, for example, your policy should clearly state that drug or alcohol abuse will lead to instant suspension or dismissal for safety reasons.
Always seek legal advice on your policy before making it operational within the workplace.
Once your policy is in place, education of employees and management is paramount. Employees will more readily accept a policy if they understand why it’s necessary. There’s no need for drug testing to become an adversarial point. Unions do accept drug testing, providing it relates to employee health and safety.
Fear and reality
While there are many reasons for employers to look the other way when it comes to employee substance use, none of them is worth the risk. The law places a clear responsibility on business owners. You are responsible for ensuring a safe, compliant workplace and premises.
There is no substantive reason to fear a sensible, well-executed drug policy. This is true even when an organisation includes hundreds or thousands of employees.
We recently helped the Brazilian Government implement industry-wide testing for all new professional lorry drivers in the country. This involved testing 57,000 individuals in the first year of operation and led to a significant drop in substance use among the workforce. The success of the new policy means it may be extended to include private motorcyclists and possibly the entire population.
Testing doesn’t need to be controversial or difficult to implement. Consistent, professional testing will help transform your workplace and help keep your business on the right side of employment law. Why aren’t you doing it?
Cansford Labs has teamed up with workplace drug awareness and testing specialists Hall and Angus to launch TOX247. For an impartial and free opinion on your business' current drug policy, get in touch.
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