26th Jul 2019

Tackling the tough topics – drugs and alcohol misuse

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Have you ever considered how prevalent drug and alcohol misuse is in your workplace? The 2017/18 Crime Survey for England and Wales found that around one-third (34.6%) of adults aged 16 to 59 had taken illicit drugs at some point during their lifetime (most commonly cannabis, then cocaine) and 4.3% of them had taken a drug in the last month.

Alcohol and substance abuse by employees can cause many costly issues for businesses, from lost productivity and injuries through to reputational risk.

As far as alcohol goes, a headline in The Independent said Britons get drunk more often than everyone else in the world, with Brits getting drunk an average of 51.1 times in a 12-month period, which accounts for almost once a week. Meanwhile, The Telegraph reported a rise in heavy drinking among professional women with rising numbers falling victim to liver disease.

Our workplaces represent the national community and so it stands to reason that a proportion of your staff could sometimes be at work under the influence, and while a Monday morning hangover used to be a point of amusement not so long ago, there are implications for your business.

How many people have arrived at work the morning after the night before feeling worse for wear? How many times has a colleague admitted they still feel ‘a bit drunk from last night’? If, as a manager, you overheard a comment like that, would you ignore it or ask that member of staff to go home?

Your legal obligations

As you know, employers have a duty of care and a legal obligation to look after the health and safety of their staff. But do you know your legal obligations when it comes to drug and alcohol misuse at work?

It is illegal if an employee under the influence of excess alcohol is knowingly allowed to work (Health and Safety at Work Act); in fact, your company could be prosecuted if they know somebody is continuing to work and putting co-worker at risk due to the influence of excess alcohol under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Alcohol and drug testing

The TUC says drug-testing is not common-place in British workplaces. It is mainly used, often with union agreement, in safety-critical areas such as transport and energy generation. For example, if your employees are working with machinery, on a construction site or in the healthcare sector, you may want to introduce a policy, but even so, testing is not quite so clear cut. Equally, you will be glad to hear that a considerable number of public transport companies require a negative breath test before a vehicle can be started.

Testing has to be done by a fully qualified person, the person being tested has to give their full and informed consent and there has to be an appeals process. There is also the issue of privacy and data protection.

As this type of testing is not prevalent in British companies there is no real evidence of drug testing being effective in combating substance misuse and organisations such as ACAS, the HSE and the TUC advise the implementation of a comprehensive policy on the issue is often the best approach.

While Broadstone can (and does) help to source drug and alcohol screenings for our clients, there are more relevant (every day) considerations for you too.

Alcohol and drug misuse policy

The first step is to decide whether this issue should be part of your overall health and safety policy or whether you need a standalone policy.

You will also need to think whether drug or alcohol misuse is considered a disciplinary matter. Many people abuse drugs and alcohol as a response to stress which can be related to work or home issues. Therefore, responsible employers will tend to consider the problem as a medical rather than a disciplinary issue.

ACAS provides some useful information on writing a policy that should start with outlining its purpose, for example, this policy is designed to help protect workers from the dangers of drug and other substance misuse and to encourage those with a drug problem to seek help.

Support and structure

It is often a good idea to implement a company-wide education policy about the impact of drug use and excessive alcohol consumption – even if the main aim is to simply ensure that safety-critical jobs are not undertaken while under the influence. This could include statistics about the physical and mental effects, their impact on home and work life and the signs that may suggest a colleague has a problem.

The policy should make clear the health and safety implications for individuals and colleagues and the disciplinary procedures in place – but the focus should be firmly on the support your organisation has available. The support could form part of an overall employee benefits package or it could be a standalone benefit and may include appropriate counselling, treatment, sick-leave, flexible working or even a review of a person’s current workload if this is felt to be contributing to the problem. It is also important to review the policy once or twice a year.

Offering support in the workplace, such as an Employee Assistance Programme, could provide the employee with advice and counselling, and encouraging employees to get help from their GP is of no cost to you (you may also find that you already have a GP Helpline available through your insurances to ensure support is quick and appropriate).

Other medical support, such as Occupational Health services may also be of use to your employee, and to you in terms of duty of care.

Many employers also provide Group Income Protection or Short Term Sick Pay which, although typically seen as a policy to provide an income in the case of illness or injury that stops you from working, may also provide access to early intervention support services – a useful tool for HR and Line Managers.

 

These services, and others, are elements that Broadstone can work with you on to support your people, and your business.