Drugs and alcohol in the workplace

The use of illegal or illicit drugs amongst a workforce can have serious effects on an organisation and its employees.  Production and morale can experience disruption and in more serious cases accidents can cause injury and potentially death.

Extensive research has been carried out to assess the level of drugs and alcohol consumption in and around the workplace. Logistics, Maritime and Rail have always been a strong focus within the testing arena due to the high risk activities carried out in the workplace. However, there is an increasing focus on lower risk industries where employers are still responsible for the welfare of employees.

How common are drugs and alcohol within the workplace?

The British Crime Survey (2009-2010) (1) found 8.6% of working age adults in England and Wales had used drugs in the last 12 months and this rate was even higher in young adults (16-24 year olds) where 20% had used drugs in the last 12 months with 10.7% of young adults using Class A drugs in the last year. An internal study within Synergy Health Laboratory Services found drug results for employees within the UK Leisure Industry had a 7.9% positive result – this means that around 8 people in every 100 are at increased risk of being involved in an accident or incident, higher than in the energy or manufacturing industry. Drug and Alcohol abuse may not only affect the quality of work from employees and safety of other staff members but will also contribute significantly to absenteeism.  An Australian study (2)  found that the Hospitality Industry was the industry with the highest levels of absenteeism (7.2%) due to alcohol use – this not only costs employers in terms of sick pay but also costs in terms of replacing the employee at work.

The Employers Duty

As an employer it is important to ensure compliance with Health and Safety Regulations including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992. This means as an employer you must ensure, to the best of your ability that staff are competent at their job and ensure they do not put others at risk with their actions. If an employee injures another through a failure to use equipment properly or due to a drink or drugs problem then the employer is responsible for those actions. (3)

Reasons for testing

  • For-cause – testing can be carried out if an accident/incident occurs and there are reasonable grounds to suspect it was due to substance misuse
  • Pre-employment – a test may be carried out before employment commences
  • Random – employers can use this to randomly test a selection of workforce to help discourage misuse

Methods of Testing

  • Urine – easiest collection method, well controlled and legally defensible
  • Saliva – newer technology with less invasive method and smaller sample size
  • Hair Testing – smaller sample size and shows 3 month drug history










A Drug and Alcohol policy will help manage Health and Safety to ensure you comply with Health and Safety at Work Act. It is possible to have a policy without having to perform testing. For more information on Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace please visit www.synergyhealthplc.com/en/laboratoryservices or call 01873 856688



(1)   British Crime Survey 2009-2010 - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/116347/hosb1210.pdf

(2)   Work Related Alcohol and Drug Use. A fit for work issue. http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/334/WorkRelatedAlcoholAndDrugUse_AFitForWorkIssue_2007_PDF.pdf

(3)   Health and Safety at Work Act http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1974/37/contents

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