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When alcohol is an issue

Suzannah Robin

The trend for fines for corporate manslaughter and injury continues to significantly increase across the UK, the emphasis on employers to operate strong and effective health and safety policies and practices has never been more vital.

What’s the law?
Aside from drugs and alcohol costing British businesses in excess of £6 billion per year in lost productivity, under the Transport and Works Act 1992 it is a criminal offence for any worker to be unfit to operate due to drink or drugs and employers must show due diligence to prevent such offences from occurring in the workplace.

Laws that relate to drink-driving may also be relevant for businesses, particularly if a company operates a fleet of vehicles or has workers regularly out on the road. It is also worth remembering that limits vary within the UK with England, Wales and Northern Ireland having the highest permitted limit of 35 micrograms per 100ml of breath, compared to Scotland’s reduced limit of 22 micrograms, which is in line with the majority of the rest of Western Europe.

What’s in a best practice policy?
When considering your company’s alcohol policy, the above should always be taken into consideration and used as a benchmark for setting your own alcohol policy limit. Suzannah Robin is a drug and alcohol safety expert at AlcoDigital.  She works with dozens of corporate and governmental organisations addressing their alcohol testing needs.

For the last 14 years she has helped numerous businesses to implement alcohol and drug testing policies for their staff through certified training programmes.  These include the correct use of safety equipment, accurately interpreting results and spotting the different signs and symptoms of alcohol misuse.  She said:

“We have helped companies in many different industry sectors to implement comprehensive alcohol and drug policies and one of the things that concerns all of them from the outset is how their employees are going to react to a new testing policy being introduced. This is why when we work with businesses we recommend following a series of best practice guidelines to ensure trust is maintained amongst staff, and safety is never compromised.”

Suzannah continued: “One of the first steps in setting best practice policy is deciding a company alcohol limit. There will be many factors determining what this should be and it will very much depend on your business operations, however, we would always recommend that an employer sets the limit below the current legal drink-driving limit rather than at a dead zero.

“Whilst zero may sound like a target every business should be aiming for, it can also cause issues where there may be discrepancies in results, caused by things such as liquor in chocolates or alcohol in medicines. Instead, using a scale of differing limits to determine the next steps an employer should instigate in the event of a positive alcohol test will provide staff with a clear set of rules and help to avoid any unjustified gross misconduct disciplinaries.”

Evidential breath tests
If a company intends to screen staff on a regular basis it can use a range of professional police technology equivalent breathalyzers in order to provide quick, accurate and instantaneous results. However, should a screening test reveal a positive result, a company will be obliged to re-test the employee.

There are a number of recommended steps employers should undertake to ensure best practice is followed. These include getting an employee’s consent and performing the test with a UK Home Office approved breathalyzer, which will guarantee that any information collected is certified if required for use as evidence in the future.

Best practice policy and training
Of course it isn’t just about the type of equipment being used, but also how the procedure is carried out and followed through. This means making sure staff implementing alcohol workplace policy have the sufficient training to perform such tests fairly and effectively. Suzannah explains:

“If an employer does not follow best practice policy this can cause issues further down the line, particularly if an employee has tested positive for alcohol. Therefore, professional and reliable training is absolutely crucial for those being assigned to implement alcohol testing policies in the workplace.”

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