drugs and alcohol

Drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace: How to prevent it

Sep 2019

Research has shown that a third of adults aged 16-49 have taken some form of illegal drug at some point in their lifetime. However, it is not just the illegal drugs that can be a problem. Legal ones including prescription drugs and alcohol, can also be misused and effect a person’s ability to work safely and / or effectively.

Legal and Prescription drugs

The way we are consuming drugs has changed, there are now readily available ‘legal highs’ despite the government imposing a blanket ban recently. The psychoactive substance ‘monkey dust’ and many other similar substances fall outside the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, making them very difficult to combat.

Fentanyl is a particularly potent emerging problem. It is an incredibly strong drug that is usually used to treat severe pain, but its most dangerous form is in fact fifty times stronger than heroin. Strong drugs are increasingly being prescribed as painkillers, or as ways to treat anxiety and depression. Although they can be effective in many ways, in some cases they can lead to dependency. Pregabalin and Gabapentin which are usually used to treat epilepsy, anxiety and pain, were named a Class E drug in April this year, due to their addictive properties.

prescription drugs


Alcohol is also a huge threat. There are a reported 589,101 dependent drinkers in the UK, and lost productivity due to alcohol costs the British economy more than £7 billion annually. 167,000 workdays are lost a year to alcohol, with 25% of Brits saying that drugs or alcohol have affected them at work and 23% saying they experience reduced productivity because of it.

Drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace

Research by Intelligent Fingerprinting, who produce drug screening systems, found that 13% of people surveyed believe a colleague has taken drugs at work and 43% worry that working alongside someone under the influence of drugs could make their workplace unsafe. Dr Paul Yates, director of Intelligent Fingerprinting said although drug misuse at work has always been a concern when it comes to health and safety this research suggests the issue could be even more widespread than previously thought.

drinking alcohol

“Drug usage not only puts the safety of the individual at risk, but also contributes to the cumulative workplace accidents that cost the UK some £4 billion every year.” This is particularly an issue in safety-critical workplaces such as public transport, constructions, manufacturing, utilities and any other environment that involves operating heavy machinery or moving vehicles. Drugs and alcohol effect the body in many different ways including reducing reaction times and concentration, things that are incredibly important when working in potentially dangerous environments.

If an individual is misusing drugs and alcohol in the workplace this can lead to serious injury and possibly even fatalities to not just themselves, but others. Employers have a legal duty to protect employees’ health and safety whilst at work, as outlined by the Health and Safety Executive. Understanding the signs of drug and alcohol misuse can help you to manage health and safety risks and by implementing drug and alcohol testing for your workplace you can deter people from misusing and prevent those who are from harming themselves and others.

worker drinking


Implementing a drug and alcohol policy in the workplace is so important, especially considering 27% of employees say drug misuse is a problem at work. It can help to reduce absences and increase productivity, as well as protect your employees and business. Drug and alcohol testing in workplaces often act as a preventative measure, if employees know they can be tested it would make them less likely to risk being caught by misusing whilst at work.

Tests can be carried out at random, and should be conducted regularly (at least once every few months.) Random testing should be exactly that, with not even managers knowing when it will be taking place, so that no one can be pre-warned and avoid being caught. Testing can also be carried out in response to an incident. For example, if an incident occurs in the workplace where you suspect the cause was due to someone being under the influence, they should be tested. New starter drug testing can also be implemented for all new employees, which is especially useful for safety-critical workplaces.

drug test form

Kays Medical can provide New Starter, For/with cause and Random drug and alcohol screening for your workplace.

We can also help you undertake on-site test by providing the necessary oral fluid and urine test kits required for Point of Care Testing.

Contact us today to discuss implementing a drug and alcohol screening programme for your workplace.