Drugs in the workplace

21 Feb 2017

There have been recent media reports revealing the horrific toll of drug driving in Scotland? The numbers suggest that the same number of drivers have died on our roads after taking cannabis, as those who died after taking alcohol. The research undertaken by Glasgow University, found that the number of drivers and motorcyclists killed in road accidents over three years, was that one in five had tested positive for alcohol. The same number tested positive for cannabis. The numbers reported are troubling. 88% of the 118 cases were males between the ages of 17 and 86. 24 tested positive for alcohol and 24 tested positive for cannabis hence the one in five statistic. 67 of the cases i.e. 57% tested positive for alcohol or all types of drug. The second most common drug behind cannabis was opioids ranging from heroin to codeine, followed by benzodiazepines like Valium, prescription medicines and over the counter medications. It is not possible to tell from this study whether or not the drugs or alcohol had any impact on the outcome of the accident.  

 

The study also shows a sharp rise in the numbers of fatalities who had taken drugs alone without any alcohol. Some of the drugs taken may have been consumed entirely legally if prescribed by a doctor. Has the reduction of the alcohol drink driving limit in 2014 had any impact? A senior police officer I spoke to in Edinburgh, at that time, said that they had not caught anyone for drink driving who would not also have broken the old higher limit. I guess some people will drink alcohol and drive no matter what the limit is. But are people moving from alcohol to other substances in order to drive?

 

In the 1990's I did some research into alcohol in the workplace. Based on a WHO study it was predicted that one in ten of the working population of Scotland had an alcohol problem that was severe enough to impair performance at work. That was just alcohol. Do employers need to have alcohol policies? Should employers extend their alcohol policies to cover other substances? Do you employ drivers or motorcyclists ? Do you employ people in occupations that require critical thinking or manual dexterity ? Have you carried out a risk assessment? What advice and training do you give to staff, supervisors and managers? Is there a case for random testing? In some areas, like pilots flying planes, it is mandatory. Are there other occupations where it should also be mandatory? Do we know about colleagues who abuse alcohol or take drugs but do nothing to help them to get help? Are your occupational heath systems up to date in relation to the alcohol and drug taking capacity of your workforce? If your staff have an alcohol or drug problem how likely would they be to feel able to report it, free from worry about their career prospects or employment security. Have you engendered a culture where people can seek help or where everyone knows that Fred or Jeannie take drugs but it's not your problem or put in the too difficult to handle basket?

 

If I was an employer I would be giving this some serious thought. Not only are there the health implications for the individual, but what impact is the issue having on productivity, profitability and organisational reputation?

 

I think there is work to be done here.

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