Hot Topic: Drug Testing in the Workplace

To ensure a safe and healthy working environment a topic that is drawing a lot of attention is that of introducing a system of drug testing in the workplace.  With increased awareness about the potential risks from behavior that is influenced by drugs, such as alcohol and narcotics, more companies are taking steps to protect their employees, their customers, and themselves from any possible consequences.

Introduction to workplace drug testing

It is not only illegal drugs that can affect behavior, productivity, and safety in the workplace.  The unsuitable use of some legal substances, such as alcohol and prescription medications, can also cause risks in the working environment.  In addition, risks may come from the use of illegal drugs, whether in the form of marijuana or some other substance, such as cocaine or heroin.  In each case, the ability to perform sensitive tasks in the workplace might be affected in somebody who is under the influence of one of these drugs.  Drug testing plays a role in removing such risks.

Why workplace drug testing is growing in popularity

There is a growing awareness that the negative effect on productivity from drug use can be significant.  Organizations such as the National Drug Free Workplace Alliance have highlighted this trend and are striving to bring the issue to a wider audience.  As the findings of recent research spreads, showing how many millions of employees may be affected, more and more employers are deciding to take action to track and control the problem.

Reasons for employers to use workplace drug testing

There is no single reason for an employer to introduce some form of drug testing in the workplace.  Loss of productivity is one issue, but there are also health and safety factors to consider.  Particularly in operations that involve machinery; the risk of injury can grow significantly for someone working while under the influence of drugs.  In addition, there is a wider concern about the general health and welfare of employees, as well as about the values and integrity of employers.

The process of workplace drug testing

Any drug testing in the workplace needs to be carried out with full respect for employees’ rights and feelings. There may be valid health reasons for using particular substances, so blanket policies may not be appropriate.  Similarly, a policy on drug testing, if applied, should be consistent for all employees, without any favor or discrimination being shown.  Testing cannot be compulsory for anyone, although sanctions refusing to take a test can be included in an employment contract, if necessary.  With all this in mind, one favored method of testing is the use of random spot checks, and particularly for employees who carry out sensitive or potentially dangerous work tasks.

The benefits of workplace drug testing

An effective drug testing policy can have benefits for all parties involved.  Employers can ensure that productivity is not affected and that the working environment is not put at risk by drug use.  Customers can be sure that they are dealing with workers whose behavior and performance are not affected by drugs.  Furthermore, employees can be protected from accidents and from drug abuse through a fair and balanced system of checks.