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The drugs don’t work

The statistics on alcohol and drug use in the UK reveal the significant issues facing society and the major consequences for the criminal justice system and public health. Less evident, however, is the impact on the workplace. Report by Iain Forcer, Head of Marketing for the Criminal Justice and Workplace Divisions at Concateno.

The latest NHS statistics show that 40 percent of men and 33 percent of women drink more than the recommended daily amount at least once a week, and 23 percent of men and 15 percent of women drink twice the recommended daily levels. In the UK last year some 2.3 million adults used cannabis, almost half a million took ecstasy and nearly three quarters of a million adults used cocaine. People’s consumption of alcohol can sit within social norms but can also range to severe addiction. Similarly, it would be a mistake to think of drug use as something confined to the extreme fringes of society, and companies should anticipate the possibility that some of their employees could at some point be taking drugs.

How can this affect employees in the workplace?
According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) alcohol is estimated to cause between three and five percent of all absences from work. This equates to some 8-14 million lost working days in the UK each year, at a cost of approximately £1.5 billion to the UK economy. The official cost of drug use to employers is a little less clear, however.

Drug and alcohol testing services, Concateno, has documented drug and alcohol trends from over 12 years of workplace testing data, based on almost one million samples. Concateno discovered that overall drug/alcohol positive rates ranged from two percent to six percent, depending upon the industry sector, the nature of the regulation that supports the testing, and the length of time that testing has been a norm. The evidence suggests that positivity rates are maintained at a lower level than those that do not test or who are new to testing.

The company also found that the most commonly abused drugs in the workplace are cannabis, alcohol and increasingly cocaine, which has shown a significant increase in the last ten years, but from a low base level. Barbiturates have also shown an increase, although this is believed to be related to increased mobility in the European workforce and the fact that they are available without prescription in many EU countries.

Implementing a workplace drug testing programme
Different drugs present a range of impacts on behaviour and the ability to perform a role. Cannabis can be a particular problem for the workplace due to its widespread use and a belief that it is a fairly ‘safe’ drug. However, cannabis slows users down, creates mild hallucinatory effects and affects memory and concentration. Ecstasy causes a feeling of elation and alertness but is combined with restlessness and hyperactivity.

As the drug wears off, users suffer from exhaustion and sometimes depression, giving rise to ‘suicide Tuesday’ or ‘the mid-week blues’ with a resulting dip in performance three to four days after use. Cocaine is a growing problem, and as the drug becomes more affordable, its use in the UK is on the rise. At work, the increased feelings of confidence felt by the user run contrary to a reduced capability to make rational decisions.

Clearly, it is in the interest of any company to avoid circumstances leading to accidents in the workplace and it is part of the duty of care that the employer has to maintain a safe working environment. HR managers have a vital role in educating employees and managers on both the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and any signs indicating that employees are in need of some assistance. Furthermore, the law is getting much tougher and reinforcing the personal liabilities that individual managers may face if they are found not to have taken reasonable care to prevent accidents.

Recently, The Health and Safety Offences Act 2008 came into effect, providing courts with increased sentencing powers for individuals that could include prison sentences and increased fines. This adds greater weight to a raft of existing legislation including the Corporate Manslaughter Act, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, section 2, and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The Health and Safety Executive sends a clear message to employers that they should take a proactive stance. Its website recommends that “employers should adopt a substance misuse policy, in consultation with their staff.” An active substance misuse policy is the employer’s first key tool in addressing alcohol and drug problems and establishing expectations (many industries restrict blood alcohol levels to 40mg/100ml (0.04 percent) for employees at work, half the UK drink driving limit).

A good policy therefore needs to satisfy two aims, on the one hand serving as a deterrent, while on the other to providing effective support. Two further tools help address these aims.

One is regular drug and alcohol testing. Introducing testing can be highly effective, not only in identifying problems, but also in reinforcing the message that a company takes misuse seriously. Doing so in consultation with employees helps ensure their understanding of your policies and that testing is conducted in a sensitive and fair manner.
www.concateno.com

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