Drug testing in the workplace is common in the USA, and there have been suggestions from senior UK policy makers that it should be more widely adopted by UK companies. The majority of the UK's working population will use mind-altering drugs at some point. These drugs may be legal, illegal or prescription, but all can potentially impact on professional competence and safety.
It is important to ask whether or not drug testing is in any way effective in reducing these potential hazards. Serious questions exist over the reliability of testing procedures, whether individual's civil liberties are being infringed, and how companies should respond if the tests are positive. The information presented here is intended to shed some light on these important questions.
From personnel experts:
John Ballard - Editor of Occupational Health Review - 3/11/98:
"I don't think drug testing in the workplace is appropriate. Employers should introduce drug policies to address drug and alcohol problems and the approach to misusers at work should be understanding and supportive."
Occupational Health Review Jan/Feb 1994:
"Whether this concern (drug misuse) is best addressed by drug testing in the workplace remains highly debatable on grounds of efficacy and ethical implications."
Occupational Health Review May/June 1994:
"Some of the experts at last year's ILO conference on Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace question the value of testing, given the absence of scientific studies which demonstrate that testing programmes reduce drug misuse in the workplace."
Infringements of civil liberties
There are serious questions over the legality of unjustified infringements of individual privacy, as well issues of data protection, and giving observed urine samples. It is likely that there will be challenges to the law in this area under the recently incorporated Human Rights Act. For more information contact Release advice line (0207 729 9904), or Liberty (The National Council for Civil Liberties 0207 403 3888).
What do drug test results tell us?
Are these tests telling us how effective someone is at their job, or merely what they do in their spare time? It is important to note that incompetence in the workplace cannot be assumed from a positive drug test.
Effective workplace policy
For more information visit Transform
The Independent Inquiry into Drug Testing at Work have released their 104-page report today after 18 months entitled “Drug Testing in the Workplace”.
At first glance, (summarised...) conclusions include:
- drug and alcohol use does not have a serious and widespread impact on the workplace.
- employers have no direct interest in the private behaviour of new and existing employees and it is an “invasion of personal liberty” to investigate this for its own sake
- exceptions could include illegal behaviour or intoxication at work, it having a very negative effect of performance, and certain types of job.
- illegal drugs aren’t necessarily more harmful in terms of impact in the workplace than legal drugs
- expansion in drug testing could have large (often negative) social and economic implications for the individual, employers and society as a whole
- legality of drug testing and consequences is ambiguous
- impairment testing is better than drug testing for health and safety purposes
- drug / alcohol policies should be a health/welfare and not a disciplinary issue.
- drug testing is “no substitute for good management practice”.
Read the full report at
So far, at least the Guardian, Telegraph and Sky News have run stories on it, all of which are available from our news library at http://www.ukcia.org/news/