An article appeared this morning (5 Sep 2013) and is following a theme that seemed to start earlier this year when Commissioner Hogan-Howe advocated more workplace drug testing. He argued that employees could be frightened out of drug taking by the prospect that they could lose their jobs.
The article on the BBC website made me sit up and take notice on a couple of counts. Firstly the quote from Dr Kindred that drug use in workplaces could be as much as 10% seems to be far too high. The Concateno study published earlier this year found over all drug use to be about 3% of the population. But the idea that some workplaces abandon drug testing because they found positives does resonate with me profoundly. I have personally experienced this. After spending months setting up a drug screening programme the client dropped in on the first day of actual real operation because we found positives. They had not thought about how to deal with positive results before they got them. Before any testing can take place the organisation needs to consider and document the purpose of the testing and the actions that could ensue for employees testing positive. A robust drugs policy is essential.
The following part quote from a worker also caused me to halt and rethink:
“I could argue that it doesn’t really affect my work and what I do outside of work, within reason, is none of his [employer’s] business if it doesn’t affect my performance.”
How confident is he that his work performance is not being affected by use of recreational drugs in his own time? How can his employer tell if his performance is being affected? At board room level the company monitors turnover, gross profit and net profit these are very dull tools to tease out drug taking. If the performance figures of the company are acceptable and there are no pronounced behavioural issues on the factory floor then I suspect drug taking gets ignored.
For me the issue is bigger than company financial performance and even bigger than risk management in safety critical roles. Though these are massively important. No, for me it is also about care for every individual within the workforce. Drug taking is a risky behaviour. Drinking alcohol is a risky behaviour. For the individual as much as anyone in their home or work group. Most people taking drugs are in employment. Most of them go undetected; and unhelped until there is a crisis.
Maybe we need to rethink why we do workplace drug testing and lose the connection to ‘big brother’ punitive actions. Maybe we need to refocus the testing on employee health, pick up the risk earlier and ask the question: “Have you got a problem that we can help you with?”
Image credit: BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-23963115