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Drug and Alcohol Policies: A Guide for Employers

It is easy to assume that drug and alcohol testing is only needed for physical or ‘dangerous’ jobs. However, as the Health and Safety Executive states, “You could be breaking the law if you knowingly allow drug-related activities in your workplace, and you fail to act. It is just as important to know the implications to both your employees and business of not tackling drug misuse, particularly where safety is involved.”

When do employers test for drugs?

  1. Pre-employment – part of the recruitment process

  2. Randomised – to reveal the level of alcohol and drug use in the workplace

  3. For-cause – when an employee is suspected to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol (only be conducted in line with the organisation’s drug and alcohol policy)

Which industries most commonly test for drugs?

  1. Aviation

  2. Construction & Housing

  3. Heavy machinery and Driving

  4. Maritime and Shipping

  5. Office Workers

  6. Petrochemical and oil

  7. Sporting & Motorsport Events

What are the signs of drug use?

While it can sometimes be hard to spot whether an individual is misusing drugs or alcohol; behavioural, psychological, or physical signs include:

  1. Changes in physical appearance

  2. Lack of memory

  3. Limited judgement

  4. Unusual irritability or aggression

  5. A tendency to become confused

  6. Impaired job performance

  7. Poor timekeeping

  8. Increased short-term sickness absence

  9. Deterioration in relationships with colleagues, customers or management

  10. Dishonesty and theft

  11. Erratic or atypical behaviour

  12. Impaired reaction time

  13. Slurred speech

  14. Altered ability to carry out everyday tasks successfully

  15. Decreased perception and coordination

  16. Abnormal fluctuations in concentration and energy

  17. Smell/odour of alcohol

What is chain of custody and why is it important?

Drug and alcohol tests have life-changing implications. Employers have a duty to protect their employees from a health and safety viewpoint but must also be aware that a false accusation of substance misuse could have a serious impact on an employee’s personal and professional life. Therefore, the chain of custody (CoC) – ensuring legally defensible results – is so crucial in employers’ drug testing policies. The CoC protects both collector and donor from any claims of bias or cheating.

What legislation do you need to know?

At time of writing, these are the key pieces of legislation that those implementing testing in the workplace need to bear in mind.

Misuse of Drugs Act (1971)

Two sections of this Act apply to the workplace:

Section 5: It is an offence for a person to have a controlled substance in their possession, whether for personal use or intent to supply.

Section 8: The occupier or manager of a premises is committing an offence if they allow the offering, supply or attempted supply of controlled substances, if the premises is used to prepare opium for smoking, or if the premises is used to smoke cannabis, cannabis resin or prepared opium.

Health and Safety at Work Act (1974)

This Act states that, as business owners, you “have a duty to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of your employees”.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999)

Employers have a duty to assess any risks to their employees’ health and safety. Employees must also take reasonable care both of themselves and of others who could be affected by what they do at work.

If an employer knowingly allows an employee to work while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and their behaviour places either themselves or other employees at risk, the employer could be prosecuted.

The Transport and Works Act (1992)

This Act makes it a criminal offence for certain workers to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while working on railways, tramways, and other guided transport systems. In such a case, the transport system’s operators would also be guilty of committing an offence unless they had shown all due diligence in trying to prevent the offence from happening.

The Road Traffic Act (1988)

Applicable to all drivers, whether social or professional, this Act makes it illegal for anyone to drive or attempt to drive a motor vehicle – or to oversee a motor vehicle – on a road or other public place when under the influence of certain listed drugs or alcohol.

Racoo Screening works with organisations of all sizes to help implement effective workplace drug and alcohol testing policies that comply with national and, where relevant, international regulations. We also offer a complete drug and alcohol testing service, e-learning packages, and staff training. To find out more, contact us here.


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