TV expose alerts BA to drink and drugs issue

British Airways is considering introducing compulsory drink and drug testing for its staff after a television documentary seemed to show 11 pilots and three cabin crew drinking before a flight.

The airline has suspended the pilots and cabin crew involved, and is now conducting an inquiry. It has warned all its 65,000 staff about the dangers of off-duty drinking and has also informed the regulatory body the Civil Aviation Authority. Last week’s Channel Four Dispatches programme showed a group of BA pilots and cabin crew drinking heavily before take-off.

A BA spokesman said, “We have been looking at introducing random drink and drug testing for all our staff in the past year.” But she said no other UK airline carries out random testing, and added that this would involve changing the contracts of employment of all its staff.

Unlike Railtrack, BA does not undertake spot checks of staff. The company has no written policy on drugs, although CAA policy states they must avoid “anything that would inhibit or affect your ability to operate”.

In the past five years two BA pilots have been dismissed after being caught when abroad coming on duty while under the influence of alcohol.

The company has reminded staff of its regulations, which state that staff can drink no alcohol in the eight hours before they report for duty. In the 16 hours before that they cannot drink more than five units of alcohol.

Cynthia Atwell, an occupational health consultant, believes that in safety-critical matters companies should have an explicit policy that permits spot checks. “A lot of my colleagues in HR are against testing, but it supports the employees as well as the employer because if they are clean they have nothing to worry about,” she said.

By Kathy Watson

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