From the white van man who’s had a few illicit tokes of a “funny” cigarette to the saleswoman still possibly over the limit from the previous night’s red wine session, to the manager dosed up on cough medicine, the chance of a driver being not of completely sober mind is considerable.
There are obvious short-term problems associated with being under the influence of drugs, especially when operating machinery, such as a car or van.
But the long-term effects can be as serious, if not more so.
“Drug or alcohol misusers do not conform to any stereotype, but the effects of their misuse can not only pose a serious threat to the safety of both themselves and their work colleagues, but can also harm the business and its reputation,” says Mike Atkinson, a consultant at workplace drug and alcohol advisory firm Grendonstar.
“Misuse can lead to short and long-term absenteeism from work, increased likelihood of illness, lateness, poor work performance and lower productivity.”
Atkinson estimates the cost to British industry from drug and alcohol-related problems could be as much as £3 billion a year.
Grendonstar is at the forefront of efforts by British firms to tackle the problem of drugs and alcohol at work.
A policy to tackle substance misuse has to tread a fine line between the demands of the company, health and safety requirements and the human rights of employees. Grendonstar has come up with the following guidelines for firms wanting to take action.
Six steps to tackling drink and drug misuse
1. Assess risk to business and evaluate current company resources, culture and attitudes
Employers must undertake a risk assessment of company operations under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
This includes assessing risks created by controlled drugs or alcohol.
A policy should ensure, as far as reasonably possible, the health, safety and welfare of all employees, as well as others that could be affected by company operations.
Machinery must be assessed, but administration processes must also be looked at – administrative errors, made by someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol, can also affect health and safety.
2. Consult, develop and publicise a policy
Don’t keep colleagues in the dark – draft an outline plan and timetable explaining what is going to happen, why, and when.
All staff should have a chance to see it and ask questions – a consultative forum is often a good idea.
Once feedback is obtained, the draft can be formalised into a policy that clearly states rules and procedures.
3. Develop an awareness and training programme, and encourage those with problems to get help
Employees who need help or advice should know where they can get it – confidentially and, for a certain time at least, without fear of retribution.
Those taking prescribed medication shouldn’t be forgotten – make sure they are informed about the possible effects on their driving and performance at work.
Management will also need training on how to help employees and how to spot signs of substance misuse.
4. Develop procedures for testing (if required)
Managers will need to be trained to administer testing procedures in conjunction with an external test specialist.
Employees must be made aware of how and when the tests will be carried out, what will happen if the test is positive and what happens if they refuse to take it.
Employees cannot be forced to take tests but refusing to take one under a firm’s health and safety policy could reasonably lead to disciplinary action.
5. Implement the policy and provide management training
“Experts” who will be responsible for implementing the policy should be designated within the company.
Issues they need to understand include the reason for the policy in the first place, as well as its legal requirements and implications.
Everyone trained should appreciate the risks of substance misuse and be able to recognise the drugs and signs of possible abuse.
They should also understand the disciplinary procedure.
6. Monitor policy and procedures on an ongoing basis
By using key performance indicators, levels of accidents, absenteeism and other incidents can be measured over time.
By keeping information such as the number of tests carried out and why, the number of positive results and so on, the policies and procedures can be amended to suit requirements.
Top 10 drink-drive myths
1. My drivers would never drive after drinking
Not that evening, perhaps, but it may surprise you to hear that they DO drink-drive regularly – the morning after.
Almost one in five of the 90,000 drivers convicted of drink-driving each year are on their way to, or at, work the next day.
Many of these drivers say they feel OK to drive and are amazed to be convicted of something they honestly believed they would never do.
In the worst case scenario the company could be liable.
2. It’s not in my vehicle
It doesn’t matter if they are in their own vehicle or yours.
If the journey purpose is work related you, the employer, can be deemed responsible for anything that goes wrong.
At worst, we are talking corporate manslaughter. In liveried vehicles there is the added issue of public perception – negative company image.
3. You have to be over the limit to be convicted
Don’t think you’re OK if your driver is under the ‘limit’.
The UK limit of 80mg/100ml of blood is very high compared with most of Europe where it is 50mg/100ml.
Most of us are significantly impaired below this level. If we are shown to be impaired, that’s still a year’s ban.
Many police services are honing their skills at field impairment testing.
4. You would have to drink loads to be over the limit the next day
Not so – four pints or three glasses of wine the night before may still be there next morning. The later you start drinking and the earlier you start driving, the greater the risk.
5. Everybody knows how long it takes to clear alcohol from the body so there’s no excuse
Really? Try this – you go out at 9pm, start off with a pint of lager or, if you prefer, a large gin and tonic, then have three glasses of wine over the course of a meal.
Then you round the evening off with a whisky.
When will you be alcohol-free and therefore OK to drive – 3am, 6am, 11am or 3pm the next day? If you are wrong, your licence is at risk.
6. People who get convicted for drink-driving must drink loads
In a recent research project of 1,000 drinking weeks of convicted drink-drivers it was found that the average weekly consumption was 36 units per week. The recommended amount for an adult male equates to 28 units.
7. We have a policy which says don’t drink-drive, so we’re covered
Don’t drink-drive is an objective of your policy – an outcome, not the policy itself.
On its own a policy, however extensive, is not enough.
The Government says “if a company trains and does checkups on its drivers and then a driver, against the advice given causes an accident, the company can say ‘we have done all that is reasonable’ (John Gilbert, Home Office).
But you have to go the extra mile.
Thames Trains (Paddington Inquiry) failed to take a “readily achievable step” in that they failed to train the driver enough. Education is the key.
8. Writing a policy is so complicated and fraught with legal loopholes - I don’t have time
Many people make policies more complicated than they need to be.
A policy is a journey, not an event.
The first version would be reviewed and updated every couple of years to keep pace with changes.
9. It’s only a problem at Christmas and New Year June is the peak time for drink-drive convictions.
The reasons are varied but more drinking occasions, longer drinking episodes and hot weather are some of the factors. At Christmas and New Year we do more planned events such as company parties, or going to Aunty Mary’s for Boxing Day, etc.
10. You have to be driving a vehicle to be convicted
No you don’t, you only have to be in charge – ie, be with the vehicle and have the keys.
It’s the only place in English law where you have to prove you were not going to drive.
Everywhere else it is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove you were.