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West Lothian is the latest council to introduce random drug testing and a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy for its employees. The random tests are intended for safety critical roles, which include HGV drivers, bus drivers and employees who operate heavy machinery. About 1500 staff will be affected.

A spokeswoman for West Lothian Council said the testing for staff in designated safety critical roles would be on a with-cause basis. This form of screening may be used as part of a drug and alcohol policy when there are reasonable grounds to suspect that there is a misuse of drugs or alcohol in the workplace. This form of testing is sometimes also referred to as for-cause testing. Reasonable grounds to suspect individuals could be based on a belief that an employee is under the influence at work, following a workplace incident, when there’s been a complaint or whistle-blowing incident, or indeed when drugs or alcohol are found somewhere in the workplace.

Drugs routinely tested for include cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines (including ecstasy) and barbiturates. Action taken following a non-negative screening result would depend on the circumstances, which would be investigated as part of a disciplinary investigation.

However, unions are concerned that some staff are being unfairly targeted. Pat Tedford for the Unite union said: “Why are they singling out only a certain percentage of employees when we state that there is a zero-tolerance policy? Zero tolerance means zero tolerance for everyone. Random testing acts as a deterrent for everyone.”

Councillor Lawrence Fitzpatrick, said there would be further consultations with the unions before the policy was implemented in September adding: “There is no distinction here between blue collar and white collar rules.”

With-cause drug screening

This brings the total to five councils in Scotland that currently operate a with-cause drug screening policy, while five local authorities in England have adopted, or are considering adopting, testing.

Walsall announced plans last summer to drug test council employees after finding drugs paraphernalia in staff areas. The council says it has called in police sniffer dogs four times in the past 2 years; and in all, seven incidents involving drugs or alcohol have been reported during the last 3 years. A number of service areas have requested the implementation of the testing policy. Roles that will be affected include those that involve property supervision, chemical handling or supervision of children.

Mike Bird, Conservative leader of Walsall council said: “We have to make sure that the people who are working for the council, especially in the areas where people are operating machinery, are safe”.

“The way the world has gone, drugs seem to be acceptable in certain areas but certainly not in the council structure”, he continued.

“We get needles, we get cannabis… we’re following the lead of other local authorities, if you’ve got a policy, you can enforce it, but if haven’t got anything in place you’ve got nothing to enforce.”

Birmingham City Council has also adopted random testing, while Wolverhampton, Sandwell and North Warwickshire Councils are considering introducing it.

AlphaBiolabs can help

Drug and alcohol misuse can aggravate a destructive behaviour. Drugs or alcohol that are available in any workplace may pressurise individuals into taking them, while others may feel victimised as a result. Employees will resent the need to cover for unwell or absent colleagues. The end product is a spiralling dysfunctional culture of increased risks, loss of profits and long-lasting damage to a company, or council’s, reputation.

A drug and alcohol testing policy can raise awareness of any concerns. It can encourage individuals to take action to correct any problems they have. By reducing problems at work the knock-on effect is less illness and staff turnover and increased productivity.

“Not only does a drug and alcohol testing policy give employees clear guidance on what they can and can’t do, it details what support is available to them, as well as which disciplinary procedures apply”, says David Thomas, AlphaBiolabs’ Managing Director. “Importantly, it also provides Managers with clear guidance on which procedures they should follow.” For information on local authority testing, or our bespoke workplace drug and alcohol testing programmes and their implementation, visit our workplace testing services pages, call us on 0333 600 1300, email info@alphabiolabs.com, or visit our website at www.alphabiolabs.co.uk.

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