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Insight: Should you test your drivers for drugs?

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The new drug-driving offence, which comes into force from March 2, 2015, will see police officers drug-testing drivers at the roadside. Should fleet operators follow suit and start testing employees? Sarah Tooze finds out.

The Government is taking a tougher stance on drug-driving.

Driving while unfit as a result of drink or drugs has long been against the law, but the Government has created a new offence of drug-driving (as part of the Crime and Courts Act 2013), based on set drug limits.

The recommended limits for 16 different drugs have been approved with a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to illegal drugs and ‘therapeutic’ levels set on medicines (see ‘What are the new UK drug-drive limits?’).

It is also introducing drug-screening devices to improve the detection of drug-drivers with the new regulations due to come into force this autumn.

Ean Lewin, managing director of DTec International, one of the drug screening companies that has put its device forward for type approval for use at the roadside, says fleet operators need to take note of the new offence.

“If the police find someone over the limit for drugs, they will want to know if they were driving on business,” he says.

For a case study looking at the corporate risks of drink driving, courtesy of Fleet21, click here.

How big is the risk?

Less than 10% of the adult population uses drugs. However, three-quarters of drug users are in full-time employment, according to the Road Safety Observatory.

A review of drink and drug driving law by Sir Peter North concluded that there was “a significant drug-driving problem” with an estimated 200 drug-driving-related deaths a year in the UK.

The risk also depends on the type of drug. Drivers who consume cannabis, the most commonly used illegal drug among adults, are two to six times more likely to have a road traffic collision (RTC). If combined with alcohol, that risk rises to 16 times. Amphetamine and methamphetamines are not as widely used as cannabis but the risk of an RTC following consumption is higher than either cannabis or cocaine.

“We shouldn’t ignore the fact that some prescription drugs will affect an individual’s ability to drive,” says John Catling, CEO of FMG. “It’s vital that those employees don’t feel under pressure from their employer to take the risk.”

Drivers may be advised not to drive with strong doses of codeine, for example.
Then there’s alcohol to consider. Brake, the road safety charity, found 14% of at-work drivers have drunk three or more units of alcohol before driving, compared with 6% of
motorists who don’t drive for work.  

Should companies test drivers?

“Without testing, it will be difficult to establish whether a problem exists until an incident happens, the police get involved and all of a sudden, your business’s responsibility is called into question,” says Catling. “This obviously adds fuel to the fire in the case for mandatory testing.”

Companies need to consider the consequences of one of their drivers being caught drink or drug-driving.

“It will affect a company financially, morally and in terms of reputation,” says Catling.
Think about the cost of recruiting a new driver.

Roger Singer, managing director of DDE+, a registered drug and alcohol road safety charity, says: “The cost of replacing one of your drivers is reckoned to be 25% of their salary by the time you have advertised, interviewed, hired and trained them.”

By contrast, drug and alcohol testing/screening could have financial benefits. For example, you may be able to convince your insurance company to lower your premiums because you are screening.

There is also safety and duty of care to consider.

“Corporate manslaughter says that you have to have a policy and be seen to be using it,” says Lewin. “Too many companies have a written statement around drug and alcohol use, but don’t do anything.”

The Misuse of Drugs Act could also apply. “If you’ve got someone taking drugs, quite often they are carrying drugs, they are coming on to your premises and in one of your vehicles. The Misuse of Drugs Act then applies to you,” says Lewin.

Most companies approach DTec “having had a hiccup” or because they want to test “safety-critical drivers”, such as crane, truck or bus drivers.

“But they soon realise that all their drivers are at risk,” says Lewin. “It’s just as important to test the managing director as other people at work; it’s fairer.”
Sometimes it is the least likely employees who test positive.

Lewin says: “I’ve had two managers show positive during drug and alcohol screening training. They were meant to be the screeners!”
Companies are often concerned about testing employees because of the Human Rights Act.

“This is very clearly covered by the European Court – a country’s health and safety legislation overrides the Human Rights Act,” Lewin says.
As for data protection: “Just keep all the actions and relevant data confidential, as you would do normally.”

When one fleet manager broached the idea of drug-testing with his colleagues, they were offended.

In that situation, the manager needs to be firm, according to Lewin. “The majority are innocent and deserve to be trusted but the not-so-innocent minority are not to be trusted,” he says. “Drug screening is a necessary evil, it’s needed to weed out those weak links for the benefit of the good guys.”

Employee concerns aside, there are practical issues to consider, such as the cost of drug and alcohol screening.

You could outsource to a third party (as the Environment Agency does, see third page) or you could get the provider to train a manager or health and safety individual in the company to do the screening themselves.

There are various drug screening devices to consider, which can test urine, saliva, skin or hair. DTec’s DrugWipe tests both saliva and sweat and detects cannabis, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and ecstasy. A saliva screen can detect recent consumption whereas a sweat sample will detect longer-term use.

As well as urine sample testing, Environmental Scientifics Group now offers hair toxicology analysis. It says when used alongside traditional methods such as urine testing, hair toxicology can enhance the accuracy of substance detection and identification.

If in-house screening indicates a positive result, this will need to be confirmed by  testing at a UK workplace-approved laboratory.

No drug screening device is 100% accurate. The devices can give false negatives and false positives. Eating and drinking immediately prior to the test can affect drug levels and a drug screening device that screens for heroin will also detect the similar, but legal, drug codeine.

Breathalysers are also not 100% accurate and you should choose a Home Office-approved device for the results to stand in a dismissal situation.

When should you test employees?

The options are: pre-employment, probation, random or with cause (after an accident or with ‘reasonable suspicion’).

One DTec customer tests 35% of its workforce every year, giving each employee the chance of being tested once every three years. Others test 20-25% of the workforce every year.

“Any less than this severely reduces the effectiveness, both to catch people and to act as a deterrent,” says Lewin.

Damian James, chairman of ACFO and head of operations at Bracknell Forest Council, isn’t convinced that all fleet operators should be testing their drivers.

“I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer,” he says. “It needs to be decided based on a risk assessment of what your organisation is doing, the age profile of your drivers and the number of miles they are driving.

“For some companies, it works very well. But from my point of view, I don’t test. It’s not appropriate at my organisation. I have a small fleet, doing low mileage. I see most of my drivers on a daily basis and can see where the risks lie. If I had a fleet of thousands of vehicles it would be different.”

If a company doesn’t test drivers it must at the very least have a drug and alcohol policy that is regularly communicated to drivers.
But James believes drivers themselves need to take some responsibility. “When they get behind the wheel they need to make sure they are in a fit state,” he says.

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