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Increase in drink and drugs misuse



Pauline Pembry, Employment Services Manager for FirstAssist, offers some advice regarding workplace drug and alcohol misuse and highlights the relevant legislation.

One in five managers believes alcohol misuse has increased in their organisation over the past few years, and 16% feel that drug abuse is on the increase, according to research.

New Government regulations, following their decision to reclassify cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug, may have left many people confused as to what is now legally acceptable.

Almost one third of UK workers under 30 have used drugs in the last year, reveals research from the Centre for Occupational and Health Psychology at Cardiff University. And 13% of workers of all ages in the study had used illegal drugs over the past 12 months, which suggests this is not an issue employers can afford to ignore.

Employers need to be clear on the facts

Cannabis is now a Class C drug, but possession is still a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of two years. Police have new guidelines to confiscate drugs from anyone found in possession and to give them a warning. Repeat offenders, under 18s and those found smoking in public places will be arrested.

All companies should have a clear policy regarding the use of alcohol, prescribed medications, illegal drugs and other substances at work. The contents of the policy will vary from business to business. For example, where employees are driving or handling equipment there may be a total ban on drinking and even prescribed drugs for safety or legal reasons.

In other working environments, companies may allow social drinking during lunch periods, which can make it more of a grey area. But regardless of the working environment, all companies need a drug and alcohol policy that covers situations where employees are suspected or found to be under the influence of drink, drugs and other substances such as solvents and lighter fuels in the workplace. By making all employees aware of the policy, employers will be able to deal with drink and drug related problems fairly, consistently and sympathetically.

Employees may view the use of drink as very differently from the use of drugs and other substances because drinking is regarded by many as a socially acceptable pastime and is usually a private matter for individuals. Alcohol abuse may only become a problem for employers when it affects their work. However, the use of illegal drugs has legal implications both inside and outside of the workplace.

The best way to ensure that employees understand the rules relating to the use of drugs and alcohol during working hours is for a company to decide on the rules and then write up a substance abuse policy. This should then be communicated to all staff, including the legal issues as well as company policy. It should be designed to show that the company aims to deal with the matter sympathetically and fairly and encourage employees to seek help and support.

Relevant legislation

  • Employers have a general duty under The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees.

  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to undertake suitable and sufficient health and safety risk assessments.

  • If an employer knowingly allows an employee under the influence of excess alcohol to continue working and this places the employee or others at risk, the employer could be prosecuted. Similarly, employees are also required to take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by what they do.

  • The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 makes it an offence for any person knowingly to permit the production, supply or use of controlled substances on their premises except in specified circumstances (e.g. when they have been prescribed by a doctor).

  • The Road Traffic Act 1988 and The Transport and Works Act 1992, states that drivers of road vehicles must not be under the influence of drugs while driving, attempting to drive or when they are in charge of a vehicle. Certain rail, tram and other guided transport systems workers must not be unfit through drugs while working on the system. The managers of such a system must exercise all due diligence to avoid those workers being unfit.

2 Responses

  1. Drugs and Alcohol Testing
    There are now quite a wide variety of test kits available for employers to use. Many do not require administration by medically qualified personnel. However to use them effectively in the workplace requires careful consideration. Employers should ensure that they generate a contractual right to test employees and the employees must clearly understand the policy and practices of the employer in this regard. There are health and safety, human rights and employment implications involved. We have worked through all these issues and have successfully implemented a testing regime.

  2. drug and alcohol abuse
    we have 20 0 25 year olds driving company vans. A couple do regularly drink excessive amounts during the weekend. How can we test for this? Have seen breath test kits in Halfords and wondered if they are suitable. How do others get round this!

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