Prison officers to be tested for drink and drugs at work

Prison officers will be subject to workplace alcohol and drug testing from this autumn, the Prison Service’s director of personnel has revealed.

In an interview with Personnel Today, Gareth Hadley confirmed that he was committed to rolling out the plans this year after talks with a number of prison governors. “Basically, alcohol and prisons don’t mix,” he said. “When you are dealing with dysfunctional people, it has severe implications for order and control.”

Testing will initially be for alcohol only, but Hadley admitted that drug testing would “probably follow not far behind”.

He said one of the reasons behind the move was the current age profile of prison officers, with the service employing an increasingly younger workforce.

The policy – agreed with the Prison Officers’ Association – will allow managers to ask employees to take a breath test if they suspect they may be over the drink-drive limit for alcohol.

Hadley said one of the main planks of the policy was about supporting staff who had a drink problem. “A member of staff is an extremely valuable resource. The emphasis is to help people deal with their problem and return to work fully capable,” he said.

A TUC report published last year estimated that about 14.8 million working days are lost each year because of alcohol abuse, at a cost to the UK economy of £2.3bn.

Alcohol and drug testing is common in ‘safety-critical’ industries, such as the aviation, rail and chemical sectors. But, in the public sector, employers have to consider an employee’s right to privacy under the Human Rights Act.

Last summer, an independent inquiry into workplace drug testing predicted that the UK “could be on the cusp of an explosion of testing”. A Mori poll conducted on behalf of the inquiry found that 78% of employers would consider testing if they believed substance or alcohol abuse was affecting productivity.

For a legal Q&A on workplace drink and drug testing click here

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