Keeping Staff Safe this Festive Season: Drugs and Alcohol
- Date: Tuesday 6th December 2016
It’s the time of year when many business owners focus their health and safety legal responsibilities on clearing ice and snow and ensuring employees are wearing the correct PPE for low temperatures. However, the festive season presents a whole new range of risks for employers, in particular through the possible increase in drug and alcohol use. Here, John Southalls, co-founder at Southalls, explores how duty holders can safely ensure their employees aren’t working whilst under the influence.
Up to 17 million working days are lost each year due to alcohol consumption, costing the UK economy over £7.3 billion in lost productivity. An employee coming into work visibly tired and faintly smelling of alcohol may not raise much cause for concern, especially after a work Christmas party. However, employees working whilst under the influence of alcohol and drugs, even if it is from the night before, present significant safety risks for not only the employee themselves, but for colleagues and customers also.
Increased rates of sickness absence, reduced productivity and increases in accidents are just three of the main causes of drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace. While a third of employees have admitted being at work while hungover, this possibility increases significantly over the Christmas period due to increases in social activities including work nights out and family parties.
The 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act states that it is an offence for employers to permit the production, supply or use of controlled substances within the workplace. If an employer knowingly allows drug related activities to take place on their premises and fails to take appropriate action, they could be breaking the law and be prosecuted by the HSE.
The 1988 Road Traffic Act and 1992 Transport and Works Act both also state that drivers must not be under the influence of drugs when operating a vehicle. So how can business owners successfully fulfil their duty of care to ensure all reasonable steps have been taken to protect employees against the potential risks associated with alcohol and drug use?
Substance misuse policy
The first step business owners should take is by creating a substance misuse policy. The policy should:
- Be created in consultation with employees, aiming to support those who may be abusing alcohol and drugs, rather than punish them.
- Outline that being at work under the influence of alcohol or drugs is against their contract of employment and can result in immediate dismissal or suspension.
- State that any employee found on the premises in possession of, or dealing drugs, will immediately be reported to the police.
- Provide contact information for relevant support groups that will be able to help employees if they have an addiction to either alcohol or drugs.
Provide Open Channels of Communication
- Encourage employees to admit their problem to a chosen manager or supervisor, making them aware of the problem as soon as possible.
- Enter into dialogue with employees coming forward, to assist them in getting the necessary support.
Drug and alcohol screening
As part of the substance misuse policy, employers can include screening and testing as a way of effectively controlling any potential risks caused by drug and alcohol use. Employers must:
- Get employees to agree to the principle of screening in their contract of employment, making them aware that either random or schedule screenings may take place at any time.
- Gain written consent from each employee, documenting they are willing to consent to each specific test that will be conducted. If both a drug and alcohol screening is to take place, employees must provide written consent for each individual test before they can begin.
At all times, and throughout the festive period especially, business owners must exercise due diligence to avoid employees and contractors from being unfit to work due to alcohol and drug abuse. By being proactive in their approach, business owners can ensure that all potential risks have been minimised and constant compliance with legal legislations has been achieved.