Survey shows firms ready to expand drink and drug tests

Employers are set to introduce random alcohol and drugs testing in the
workplace in a bid to crack down on substance abuse.

Four out of 10 employers have either started or are considering testing
staff for alcohol or drug misuse in the near future, according to exclusive
research by Personnel Today, Alcohol Concern and DrugScope.

The survey of 306 HR professionals shows that the problems caused by alcohol
and drug abuse in the workplace, such as accidents, absenteeism and poor
performance, are widespread and on the increase.

Employers in safety-sensitive sectors, such as transport and manufacturing,
are questioning whether drug and alcohol policies are enough – particularly
with the threat of an imminent law for corporate manslaughter.

Laura Halliday, HR executive of medical manufacturer Ethicon, which employs
over 2,000 staff, said, "We are considering testing – not because we have
a problem, but because there is increasing legislation all around us, and we
don’t want someone to be injured through substance abuse.

"Some employers are holding back because of the human rights debate
over testing."

Currently, 10 per cent of organisations test staff for alcohol or drug use,
and over 30 per cent are considering doing so in the next year.

Nine per cent of employers have tested potential staff during the
recruitment process.

Random testing is on the agenda. Piers Merchant, director of campaigns for
the London Chamber of Commerce, recently called for more employers to randomly
test for substance abuse.

The chamber, which has more than 3,000 member companies, estimates that 25
per cent of workplace accidents are alcohol- induced, and people with substance
abuse problems are up to eight times more likely to be absent from work for
more than a week than their colleagues.

Personnel Today’s joint re-search shows that 75 per cent of employers have
suffered from staff absenteeism due to alcohol abuse. Over 30 per cent have had
problems as a result of employees using drugs.

Further data from this survey can be found online in Drink, Drugs and Work:
the figures, at www.personneltoday.com/features

By Mike Broad

Case study: Huntsman Tioxide
Tests vital in safety sensitive industry

Chemical company Huntsman Tioxide started randomly testing its 600 staff for
alcohol abuse in January.

Employees can be randomly breathalysed and, if they are over the drink and
drive limit, they are in breach of company policy and are referred to HR.

While only one member of staff has been caught out by the random testing, HR
manager Lynn Ross believes it is sending out the right safety message.

Ross said, "Testing makes sense, and I believe it will become
compulsory in all safety-sensitive industries. It has to apply to everyone,
however, to get staff buy-in and senior management are as likely to be tested
as other staff."

The project took 12 months to develop and has the support of staff, claims
Ross. The committee that drove the project included a union representative and
employees.

It ran an amnesty period for three months when staff could use a
breathalyser themselves to find out if they were over the limit. The HR team
also provided a booklet about the measurement of alcohol and the effects of drugs.

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