With roadside drug testing now in force in Scotland as well as England and Wales, Dr Philip Kindred, Technical Services Manager at SYNLAB Laboratory Services explores the affect this has on the transport and logistics industries and, how training and the development of a Drug and Alcohol Policy can combat potential problems.
It goes without saying that an understanding of the effect of drugs in the workplace and an effective drug and alcohol policy is of vital importance to health and safety decision makers within any industry. The use and abuse of illegal or illicit drugs amongst a workforce can have serious implications for both employees and organisations. In worst-case scenarios, drug induced accidents could cause injury and potentially death.
The need to have an air-tight policy in place increases within high-risk industries: particularly in logistics and transport, to ensure the safety of the public and the existing workforce. It goes without saying that staff within this industry coming to work with alcohol or drugs in their system potentially present a significant risk.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Organisations can prevent risks and potential drug use having such an impact on their employees, clients and potentially the general public with the introduction of a drug and Alcohol Policy.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) figures1 estimate: Drugs and alcohol play a role in around a quarter of UK workplace accidents – and yet many employers are unsure how to frame an effective drugs and alcohol policy – or indeed how to enforce it. CIPD figures suggest that just one third of employers train managers in how to tackle these sorts of issues.
Furthermore, corporate manslaughter legislation now places great emphasis on management’s duty of care to employees, encouraging employers to execute a drug and alcohol policy that incorporates thorough testing programmes to mitigate risk.
Already high on the agenda, the issue of drug-driving has been thrust into in the public eye with new drug driving legislation in Scotland and as a focus for police in England and Wales with figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council Data showing an increase in drug driving incidents from 2017, further showing that 57% of tests came back positive from samples collected at the roadside during the 2018 summer crackdown of 38 police forces.2
DRUG DRIVING LEGISLATION IN THE UK
Roadside drug testing operates much the same way as a breathalyser test for alcohol consumption. A simple, rapid roadside test can be used in combination with a blood test to prove the presence of illegal substances in an individual’s system.
Since its launch in 2015, the initial results gleaned from roadside drug testing have raised eyebrows with figures in some regions suggesting a 56 per cent rate of positive test results following roadside stops by local police forces.3 While much of this data is likely to be based on ‘for-cause’ testing as opposed to random testing, the fact remains that drug-driving is fairly widespread – and the implementation of roadside testing is bringing to the fore the extent to which it takes place.
Controversially, roadside drug tests also detect other substances including testing for inappropriate use (against medical advice) of prescription medications commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia or pre-existing drug addictions. The new regulations allow for detection of low levels of eight illegal drugs, with higher levels set for nine prescription drugs, including morphine and methadone. In relation to legal prescription drugs, the tests would identify cases where levels of medications clearly indicate substance abuse, meaning that those using prescription drugs with recommended amounts will not be penalised.
Despite ever-increasing technology and legislation, random testing in the workplace is not currently mandatory for workers operating dangerous equipment such as heavy vehicles or machinery, however, organisations can still put into place a solid workplace drug and alcohol policy, which if sufficient, serves to not only protect employees and the public from harm, but also to protect the reputation of the employer.
With all of this in mind, the most pressing question might be this: how should health and safety executives implement provisions for drug and alcohol testing into their policies to best protect their employees, the public, and the reputation of the company itself?
INTRODUCING A DRUG & ALCOHOL POLICY
In-house health and safety policies can take inspiration from Drug Driving legislation. Rather than focusing on levels of impairment, or how far different amounts of a specified substance could affect an individual’s ability to carry out their duties safely, at SYNLAB Laboratory Services, we would suggest that policies clearly state a firm and transparent approach to the presence of illegal substances – or acceptable levels of legal substances – within an employee’s system. Quite often people may not be aware of how drugs in their system can continue to impair their performance for days after consumption. The residual presence of such substances in the body alone should be enough to prevent them from operating life-threatening machinery – as opposed to the possible level of debilitation.
A comprehensive policy helps to reduce accidents, long-term sickness and compensation claims, and reduction in insurance risk, whilst providing complete guidance for company employees. This methodology will allow employers to avoid the current ‘grey area’ approach to the impact of both recreational and dependency drug use on a person’s role at work. By focussing on the cut-and-dried, measurable science behind substance abuse, an uncompromising policy can protect a company from speculative argument employee tribunals and courtrooms.
Dr Philip Kindred, Technical Services Manager at SYNLAB Laboratory Services
If you want to learn more about our Drug & Alcohol Policy services, you can call us on 01873 856688 or email [email protected]
2. The Guardian: Half of summer drug driving tests failed by motorists, 10th December (2018)
3. Roadside drug test results: Freedom of Information Request (2015)