Workplaces should be as safe as possible for employees and employers, and although some employment sectors have more potential physical dangers than others – for example, the construction industry – it is in every employer’s interest to keep workers as free from harm as possible. It is also up to employees to protect themselves and colleagues, but at times this might be difficult if one or more are habitual abusers of alcohol or illegal drugs. Substance abuse has the potential to be very dangerous in the workplace, with drugs and heavy alcohol users potentially bringing harm to themselves or their workmates either through carelessness or negligence.
Drug testing procedures
Many employers now have drug-testing procedures in place and these must be carried out correctly. Employers should have a written policy about the prohibition of drugs in the workplace, and that policy should be detailed in each employee contract alongside the fact that the company carries out random drug testing. The policy on drugs should explain what it is trying to achieve as well as how tests are to be carried out when required. It should also outline what support is available for those who misuse drugs and what the consequences of misuse will be.
Providing that the details of the drugs policy are completely transparent to employees, random drugs tests can be carried out, however, this is possible only if the employee agrees. The employer has a right to mitigate the potential risks to the workforce though an employee has the right to refuse a test. However, it is normal for employees to agree as long as the rules and regulations have been codified and agreed to. Refusing to take a test is tantamount to an admission of guilt and employment could be terminated. It may also be more difficult to gain future employment if this is the case.
There are many substances that may be taken recreationally that can have a negative impact in the workplace, and tests are available for a range of these common drugs. Alcohol misuse is a major consideration for employers as this can impair movement and memory, leading to a higher risk of accidents occurring. Other common drugs often detected in the system are cocaine, marijuana, opiates (such as morphine and codeine) and amphetamines. There are tests available to detect all of these.
The majority of drugs stay in the system for between two and four days, though a heavy user might find that they remain in his or her system for considerably longer. Employers will usually have a strict timeframe for using drug test kits to ensure that any drugs that could be detected have not left the system.
The commonest way of testing for drugs is via a urine sample, which, with the appropriate drug test kit, can provide a result in a few minutes on site. Other methods include hair samples or mouth swabs and, in some cases, samples of blood. Employers who do not have on-site facilities can send any samples to specialist laboratories for analysis.