Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing

Drug testing in the workplace can be a controversial issue. As a result, there is an important balance to be struck between health and safety and workers’ rights.

At Crystal Health Group, we will work with your organisation to implement drug testing that is right for your business. Also, we have a wealth of experience that you can draw on when developing your drug and alcohol policy. We believe that drug testing is effective and should be considered as part of a health and safety strategy in the workplace. In other words, the risks and effects of drugs and alcohol in the workplace must be effectively managed.

Drugs and Alcohol in the workplace

While the 2020 Crime Survey for England and Wales provides statistics on general drug use in the UK, there is no evidence of how this impacts people in work. Also, without the evidence, it is difficult to make assumptions about employees recreational drug habits. For example, It is claimed that some employees limit illegal drug use for social occasions at weekends. Again, there is no clear evidence of this, and this does not consider the evermore complex shift patterns in the workplace.

Since 2009, our own evidence from providing drug testing services to organisations in the UK provides the following headlines:

  • Cannabis and Cocaine account for more than 90% of failure rates in workplace drug testing.
  • When performing random drug testing for the first time, we have encountered failure rates of up to 33% of those tested.
  • Most drug test failures occur in the 16 to 30 age group.
  • Implementing little and often random drug testing has reduced failure rates to almost zero in most organisations.
  • Since 2020, our own data shows a significant increase in the number of ‘for-cause’ and post-incident/accident call-outs as a result of cannabis use in the workplace.


“It’s about managing the risks from drugs and alcohol in the workplace”

It is worth noting that there is little data linking drug and alcohol use to accidents or incidents in the workplace. You might think this is a strange comment for a drug testing company to make. However, we believe it is about managing the risk for the likelihood of this happening. Considering the use of recreational drugs in society today, and the ongoing problems with alcohol addiction, this is a real risk that all organisations should consider.

Furthermore, while the risks to safety critical roles from the effects of drugs and alcohol are obvious, it is also worth considering employees who are making business critical decisions. Also, this may not stop there. What about employees who do not fall in to either of these categories? Slips, trips or falls in the workplace could also occur if under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Or, employees who commute to work? There is no simple answer. But below we provide some guidance based on our experience.


Implementing a Drugs and Alcohol policy

We recommend a practical and simple approach to drug and alcohol testing in the workplace. Here are some things worth considering:

  • Develop your drugs and alcohol policy in collaboration with your workforce and trade union (if applicable).
  • Ensure you give the required statutory notice period for introducing the policy and updating employment contracts.
  • Undertake a formal risk assessment to identify the risks in your workplace. Also, this includes the employees most at risk. For instance, safety critical roles.
  • See legal advice and sign-off for your policy from suitably qualified employment lawyers.
  • Implement a drug testing programme (if applicable) that suits your business needs. We can provide advice and expertise in this area.


How can Crystal Health Group help?

We aim to provide impartial and balanced advice on drug testing in the workplace. On one hand, there are other drug testing companies who will try and sell you a service that you don’t necessarily need. On the other, there is advice from trade unions who question the need for drug testing in the workplace at all.

We agree with a lot of what the trade unions say. It is important to consider workers rights and what they can do in their own time. However, it is worth remembering that recreational drugs such as cannabis and cocaine are illegal in the UK.

Also, to illustrate our balanced viewpoint, we have represented employees at employment tribunals. At a case in 2017, our Director Nichola McChrystal’s expert testimony helped with a judgment of unfair and wrongful dismissal. This was as a result of an employer dismissing an employee who ‘failed’ a point of care urine test in the workplace. Without laboratory confirmation testing of this sample, it can only be considered presumptively positive.  The employer failed to send the sample for laboratory testing and therefore lost the judgement.


“Supporting your employees and best practice”

Also, our advice is to always provide support to employees who may have difficulties with drugs or alcohol. After all, they are an asset to your business, and you may have invested a lot in terms of skills and training into them. A zero-tolerance approach can bring its own problems and could potentially be an unnecessary drain on your HR team. Finally on this point, we will not judge any employee who fails a drug test. We deliver a professional testing service that compliments our clients’ drug and alcohol policy.

In addition to the advice we provide, all workplace drug testing services are derived from best practice. This includes:

It may be surprising to hear that there is no regulator overseeing this sector. As a result, we impose these strict standards on ourselves to ensure compliance in all that we do. In addition, all sample collection activities comply with the Human Tissue Act 2004.

Pre-employment Drug Testing

Some employers require prospective employees to be drug and alcohol tested before they commence work. We will always recommend the urine laboratory drug test for this purpose. Also, depending on the nature of the position, an employer may request a Hair Drug test. This will provide an effective historical analysis of drug use for up to 6 months. We perform most pre-employment drug tests at our UK network of clinics.


Random Workplace Drug Testing

Most of these tests are performed on-site in the workplace. There are many options available for random drug and alcohol testing. However, we will always recommend either the urine or oral fluid laboratory test for this purpose. In addition, for random testing to be effective, we advise at least quarterly testing sessions, with at least 10-20% of the workforce tested annually. Also, we provide additional services at no extra cost, these include:

  • The option of randomising your employee lists at Crystal Health Group and the benefits of doing this.
  • Provision of donor advice information to provide fully informed consent. Also, you can use these to help coordinate on-site appointment times.


Periodic Drug Testing

Usually for the more safety critical roles. Employees are drug and alcohol tested at least once annually.


Follow up Drug Testing

Depending on your drug and alcohol policy, this could be an option for your organisation. As mentioned, a supportive approach could provide an opportunity for an employee to show that they have abstained from drugs or alcohol. A scheduled run of follow-up drug testing sessions could help to prove this. Remember, you employee is an important asset to your organisation. As a result, we recommend follow-up testing as part of a supportive drugs and alcohol policy.


For-cause Drug Testing

Also called ‘with-cause’ or ‘post-incident’ testing. This type of testing could help provide further evidence for an investigation into an accident, incident or allegations of drug or alcohol use at work. Furthermore, it should not be used in isolation for any disciplinary action. Again, we would recommend urine laboratory testing for this. Also, this service is available 24/7, 365 days a year.


Friendly advice

Introducing workplace drug and alcohol testing can be daunting. The above information is by no means an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts! The best way we can help you is by fully understanding your business and the need to introduce drug and alcohol testing. By asking the right questions, we can do this and advise you accordingly. Also, one of our senior management team may be able to visit you and answer any concerns you might have. In addition, we have developed helpful templates and guidance that may assist you in developing both your policy and testing programme.

Finally, we have worked with many organisations over the years, both small and large. Those that have successfully introduced workplace drug testing have integrated it into their health and safety culture. It has now just become something that they do to ensure the safety of their employees, visitors and the public. We can help you get there, call us today to speak to one of our team.