The many advantages of workplace drug testing
As they owe their employees a duty of care, one of the most important duties of all employers is to provide them all with a safe working environment. Employees have a right to be safe where they are working and though some professions are more dangerous than others, there should always be health and safety procedures in place to help protect the workforce.
ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service highlighted one aspect of workplace safety, in a report from 2012. The report’s findings were that one third of employers considered the abuse of drugs and misuse of alcohol was a problem in the workplace. With this being identified, many employers decided to introduce policies for testing for drugs and alcohol among their employers.
The major consideration in this was to ensure that workers who were affected by drug problems would not be a danger to their colleagues. A number of professions such as the police, army and the offshore oil and gas industry require potential employees to be screened before taking up employment, and there are many others that do the same and that also carry out random tests in the workplace.
What happens with a drug test?
Drug testing is a relatively quick and painless way for an employer to find out if there is a substance abuse problem in the workplace. A test will usually be carried out by taking a hair or urine sample that is then sent to a specialist laboratory to be assessed. An initial screening test will identify negative results, and for those that are positive for drugs or alcohol there is a more detailed test that gives results that, where necessary, can be put before an industrial tribunal and defended by an employee.
Some testing can also be done on site in the workplace, with urine or oral fluid samples being taken and analysed within a few minutes.
The major advantages of workplace drug testing is that potential risks to other workers can be identified, as well as risks to the users of drugs and misusers of alcohol. Any employee affected may be offered help to work on countering their addiction.
Setting up a testing regime
As keeping their workplace safe is a priority, employers need to ensure that any drug testing policies are introduced fairly and transparently. Discussing the issue with unions or staff associations can be beneficial as it displays that necessary transparency.
Employment contracts should have the policy clearly stated in line with the Health and Safety Executive’s guidance that employers should ensure their workplaces provide safe environments and are free of hazards for their employees.
Employees should give permission for a test to be made when they are asked. They are entitled to refuse a test (though if a test is mandatory before gaining initial employment they will not be considered for a job), but a refusal may send waves of concern to the human resources departments and is likely to mean that the particular employee will be monitored more closely than usual. Some employers are now making drug testing a condition of employment that is included in contracts and is detailed in the employer’s handbook.
Workplace drug testing may appear intrusive, but to maintain the safety of employees it is a sensible move for employers to make.