Drugs and alcohol testing
Peritus Health Management offers drugs testing to the European Workplace Drug Testing Society Standards for urine testing using instant point of contact testing and chain of custody procedures being employed where non-negative results are found.
Alcohol breath test is carried out using Home Office approved breathalysers which are calibrated on a 6 monthly basis.
Companies must have a drugs and alcohol policy in place prior to testing and they should have a clear process for managing employees who have positive and non-negative results.
A drug and alcohol policy is essential to manage any employees who appear to be under the influence of these substances at work. Guidance on Alcohol and Drugs Policies are available from ACAS and the HSE.
Policies should identify the company’s stance on drugs and alcohol in the workplace. Phrases such as ‘under the influence of’ drugs or alcohol are arbitrary without clearly clarifying the definition. Peritus Health Management recommends that it is defined as a ‘zero-tolerance’ to drugs and alcohol to avoid appeals on the grounds of what is a ‘safe’ level within the body. Each person is different and in the case of some drugs, the dose-response rate varies too much to be able to identify ‘safe’ levels.
Policies should refer to the use of tests under varied circumstances – pre-employment, random or for cause – to determine whether an individual is ‘under the influence’ of drugs or alcohol and in breach of company policy. It should also explain how employees with identified problems will be managed.
- Employees with a drink/drugs problem have the same rights to confidentiality and support as they would if they had any other medical or psychological condition.
- Disciplinary action should be a last resort. A court may find a dismissal unfair if an employer has made no attempt to help an employee whose work problems are related to drinking alcohol.
- The cost of recruiting and training a replacement may be greater than the cost of allowing someone time off to obtain expert help.
- Many people with an alcohol/drugs problem are able in time to regain full control over their drinking and return to their previous work performance.
- It may be very difficult for people to admit to themselves or others that their drinking is out of control or their weekend recreational drug use is impacting on their fitness for work during the week. They need to know that you will treat their drinking/drugs problem as a health problem rather than an immediate cause for dismissal or disciplinary action.
- If employees’ drinking/drugs use is a matter of concern, they should be encouraged to seek help from their GP or a specialist addiction agency.
- Drug or alcohol addiction or misuse is not considered to be a disability unless they have ill health effects as a result of this such as liver failure.
A model workplace alcohol policy should cover the following areas:
Aims – Why have a policy? Who does the policy apply to? (Note: best practice would be for the policy to apply equally to all grades of staff and types of work).
Responsibility – Who is responsible for implementing the policy? (Note: all managers and supervisors will be responsible in some way but it will be more effective if a senior employee is named as having overall responsibility).
The Rules – How does the company expect employees to behave to ensure that their alcohol/drug consumption does not have a detrimental effect on their work?
Special Circumstances – Do the rules apply in all situations or are there exceptions, such as prescribed medications with side effects?
Monitoring – Statement which identifies what the company’s tolerance level is and the circumstances and arrangements for testing of employees for alcohol/drug levels.
Confidentiality – A statement assuring employees that any alcohol/drug problem will be treated in strict confidence.
Help – A description of the support available to employees who have problems because of their drinking/substance misuse.
Information – A commitment to providing employees with general information about the effects of drinking alcohol/taking drugs on health and safety.
Disciplinary Action – The circumstances in which disciplinary action will be taken.
- Find out if you have a problem.
- Make a list of who you need to consult.
- Decide how your company expects employees to limit their drinking.
- Decide at what point and in what circumstances you will treat an employee’s drinking as a matter for discipline rather than a health problem.
- Find out if any of your managers or other staff need more information or training.
- Consider providing staff with general information about alcohol and health.
Consider how you can make sure that if an employee has a possible alcohol or drugs problem, this is noticed and help is offered.
Think about how you will let your workforce know about company policy on alcohol and drugs – consider supplying them with a copy with their payslip.
|DRUG||DRUG/METABOLITE DETECTED||DETECTION TIME IN URINE||COMMENTS|
|Alcohol||Alcohol (ethanol)||1 day||Body metabolises alcohol out of the blood at about 18mg/dl an hour|
|Amphetamines (including ecstasy)||Parent drug e.g. amphetamine, ecstasy||2 – 4 days|
|Barbiturates||Parent drug||2 – 16 days|
|Cannabis||Delta 9 THC Acid||1 – 5 days||Can be up to a month if prolonged use|
|Cocaine||Benzoylecgonine||1 – 2 days|
|LSD||LSD||1 – 2 days|
|Methadone||Methadone / EDDP||1 – 3 days|
The legal position
If you knowingly allow an employee under the influence of excess alcohol or drugs to continue working and this places the employee or others at risk, you could be prosecuted. You may also be at risk of prosecution under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 if an employee is found in possession of large quantities of drugs on your site with intent to supply and steps have not been taken to manage it legally.
The Transport and Works Act 1992 makes it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through drink and/or drugs while working on railways, tramways and other guided transport systems. The operators of the transport system would also be guilty of an offence unless they had shown all due diligence in trying to prevent such an offence being committed.