Drugs Use and Health and Safety at Work

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It goes without saying that being under the influence of drugs at work– whether illicit or certain prescription drugs – can seriously impact not only the ability of an employee to do their job but health and safety in general.

A report found that out of 1.6 million workers who underwent a drug test a work, 3.23% tested positive for either illegal drugs or prescription/over the counter drugs that they failed to report. This equated to over 51,000 people. The study itself has been widely criticised for a number of reasons from a conflict of interest by the company that carried out the research to not declaring false positive results. It also didn’t go into any detail about why so many people tested positive.

That being said, drug use at work is an issue and in this weeks’ blog, we are going to look at how widespread the problem is, whether or not employers can take random drug tests and how being under the influence can impact on health and safety.

How Much of a Problem is Drug Use at Work?

Finding reliable statistics for drug use at work in the UK is difficult.

The above-mentioned study has several problems and was not peer-reviewed. A survey carried out by Crossland Employment Solicitors found that 12.5% of office workers admitted to taking illegal substances every week with 45% stating that it impacted on their job performance.

So, while finding accurate statistics for each sector is hard, drug use can be a problem in the workplace but what rights do employees have in terms of drug testing?

Do Employer’s Need to Have Consent to Drug Test?

In a word, yes.

An employer needs to adhere to the Health and Safety at Work Act to keep everyone at work safe and drug use or being under the influence of drugs is detrimental to this. However, it gets a bit murkier as employment tribunals have ruled that an employer can’t dismiss someone simply for being in possession of drugs outside of work nor can they necessarily be disciplined for testing positive during a drug test.

Each individual workplace should lay out their drug testing policy in the staff handbook and if an employer is going to carry out drug tests then there is a checklist to follow which includes ensuring that ensuring tests are random and not focused on one individual employee unless it is justified.

No-one can be forced to give a sample and an employee can refuse however some court rulings have found that this can be grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal depending on the circumstances.

Drugs Use in the UK Workplace

How widespread drug use actually is at work can be difficult to ascertain however being under the influence of drugs at work is a big health and safety risk.

What is true is that employers have a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure everyone is kept safe in the workplace and any employees who take illegal or prescription drugs that are not declared can put themselves and others in danger.

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