Why Implement a Drug and Alcohol Policy?

What’s the Problem?

Drugs and alcohol have become an increasing concern in the UK. NHS statistics released in 2019 show alcohol related deaths in England at a record high with a 6% rise in one year. Their statistics also show; around 1 in 12 adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales had taken an illicit drug in the last year.

The scale of alcohol and drug use in the UK represents a significant cause of medical, psychological and social harm, which in turn can have a detrimental effect on the workplace.

What are the Risks Associated with Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace?

Substance misuse represents a huge risk to the workplace, as research shows; in the UK there are an estimated 167,000 working years lost to alcohol every year*.

It’s estimated that 40% of employers refer to alcohol as a significant cause of low productivity**. However, alcohol isn’t the only risk associated with the workplace, illicit drugs and prescription drugs both pose a risk to the health and wellbeing of employees in the workplace as SYNLAB Laboratory Services data on analysis results show that on average over 10% of employees fail a drugs test following a suspicious incident.

Why Implement a Policy?

The evidence above provides one reason why a company may decide to implement a Drug and Alcohol Policy. A Policy can play a pivotal role in the workplace acting as a preventative measure to drug and alcohol misuse and support the health, safety and welfare of employees at work. There are others:

Because the business has to: For some businesses, a Drug and Alcohol Policy isn’t a choice, it’s a requirement. One example of this is the UK rail industry who use a Railway Industry Supplier Qualification Scheme (RISQS) to ensure suppliers of products and services to the rail industry are operationally capable and compliant – therefore reducing risk.

Because the business ought to: Some businesses decide to roll out a Drug and Alcohol Policy because it makes sense to. One example here is the Nuclear or Petrochemical industry where, due to the nature of the business, safety is paramount and the number of staff in safety critical roles are high.

These businesses are often regulated by a relevant body. While a Drug and Alcohol Policy may not be a regulatory requirement, in our experience the professional association will recommend the business implements one.

There are also laws surrounding the misuse of drugs and alcohol that relate to workplace tasks such as driving. The law adopts a zero tolerance approach to alcohol and eight illegal drugs, a balanced approach to amphetamine, which can be prescribed and a road safety risk based approach to eight common medications.

As a result of this, for companies that have employees that drive for work, it’s imperative to introduce a policy to manage the risk of drug and alcohol use. It can also act as a preventative measure to reduce the risk of reputational damage associated with a driver failing a drugs/alcohol test whilst driving for work.

Because it’s a Global Requirement: UK businesses with an international parent, may implement a Drug and Alcohol Policy because it’s a Global or Group requirement. While a policy may not be mandatory under UK law, it may be in the United States or Australia and the parent company may decide to roll it out globally.

Want more advice on a drug and alcohol policy? Call us on 01873 856688 or email labs.customerservice@synlab.co.uk

*Public Health England (2016). Health Matters: Harmful drinking and alcohol dependence.

**Chartered Institute for personnel and development: Managing drug and alcohol misuse at work.