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9th December 2016

Controlling Drug and Alcohol use this Festive Period

Winter can be a tricky period for managing health & safety in the workplace. Not only are there the increased risks of slips, trip and falls due to icy conditions, but the festivities and celebrations around Christmas time bring with them the added issue of employees potentially being under the influence whilst at work.

It is estimated that 17 million working days are lost each year due to alcohol consumption. A sore head and a tired body after the work Christmas party may make an employee the butt of the office jokes, however working under the influence of alcohol and drugs, even if it’s from the night before, can pose significant safety risks for businesses. There is also the added issue of a reduced productivity rate whilst people recover from the excesses.

Businesses have an obligation under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act to not permit the production, supply or use of controlled substances within the workplace. Non-compliance with this could lead to HSE prosecution.

Similarly, 1988 Road Traffic Act and 1992 Transport and Works Act both state that drivers must not be under the influence of drugs when operating a vehicle.

So how can you fulfil your duty of care and ensure that all reasonable steps have been taken to protect employees from the risk associated to alcohol and drug use?

Sound advice would be follow to a three step process as follows:

Create a substance misuse policy…

Such a policy should:

  • Be devised through consultation with employees – emphasising the aim to support those who may be using alcohol and drugs, not punish them
  • Detail that being under the influence of alcohol or drugs whilst at work is against the conditions of their contract of employment and that breaking such a contract will have disciplinary ramifications
  • Confirm that employees found to have drugs in their possession whilst on the business’ premises will be reported to the police
  • Include contact information for relevant support groups for drug and alcohol users

Encourage Communication…

Following communication of the substance misuse policy, employees should be encouraged to discuss their problems with a manager. This should then lead to the business offering to assist in obtaining the necessary support for their employees.

Undertake drug and alcohol screening…

As part of the substance misuse policy, a business can choose to include screening and testing to identify employees who may be drug and alcohol users and to reduce the risks caused by this.If you choose to conduct screening and testing, you must:

  • Ask employees to agree to the principle of screening in their contract or employment. You should detail that random or scheduled screenings may take place
  • Obtain written consent from each employee, confirming their consent to partake in each specific test.

It is important that businesses exercise due diligence to ensure that their employees and contractors are fit for work at all times, however, this is even more pertinent during the festive period due to perceived increased social activity.

By being proactive in your approach you will ensure that the risks posed have been identified and minimised, along with your continued compliance with legal legislation in this area.

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