Drug and alcohol testing in the workplace


The issue of drug use is as important as ever. The cost of illegal drugs has dropped significantly in recent years. Moreover, there has been a huge rise in the number and availability of legal highs on the market, which can easily be bought online or in new specialist ‘head shops’ that are appearing on our high streets.

But are UK employers worried about these changing trends in drug use? Are they seeing an impact on their businesses, and what measures are they introducing to keep their employees safe?

Our survey looks at these and other important questions which we posed to businesses of all sizes throughout the country. Not only did we aim to measure their awareness of the issues surrounding drug and alcohol use and testing, but also to assess their broader knowledge of health and safety matters in the workplace.

We got a large response from Over 6,500 organisations; their answers make fascinating reading. They shed fresh light on the views and experiences of businesses up and down the UK – and we’re pleased to share them with you now.

Key insights that help us to help you

Screening and testing for drugs is our business at Alere Toxicology. With over 60 years of collective expertise in this field, we offer an extensive range of products and services that help employers to implement effective testing programmes in the workplace. We help companies write or rewrite their policies. And we help them negotiate successfully with their unions to ensure the interests of all parties are protected.

To make our services as useful and relevant as possible, we wanted to obtain a full understanding of what existing and potential customers think. So we set out to learn how drug issues are affecting them, to gather their opinions on drug testing, to discover what measures they have (or don’t have) in place, and to see what information and assistance they need to improve their testing procedures.

The results

The responses to the survey were very enlightening. Some were encouraging, others surprising.

For example, it was excellent to learn that a healthy 78.3% of respondents had a drug and alcohol policy in use.

This underlines our belief that organisations are getting the message on how important this issue is.

Equally positive was the fact that over 50% had taken steps to ensure their policy remained up-to-date by reviewing it within the last year – a statistic that actually exceeds best practice in industry. A further 21% did so within two years, but this leaves 29% who failed to review their policy within this time – or who didn’t review it at all. With technology changing rapidly and ever-increasing demands for information being made, these companies are clearly putting themselves in a very risky situation.

As 57.2% of respondents said they had been asked about their drugs and alcohol policy in new business tenders, it shows that many customers believe this is an important element of a company’s operation. Although 80.1% claimed to have seen no return on their investment in the training, other companies have experienced massive returns of over £10,000.  We understand that this is difficult and time- consuming to quantify, and the result could show that many organisations simply don’t have the time to undertake this kind of analysis. But given the sizeable financial benefits some respondents seem to have experienced, it could be a wise move to ‘do the math’.

The issue of whether the policies and procedures being used are fit for purpose raised its head in other responses. For example, only 12.1% of respondents believed their testing methods would be able to detect new ‘legal highs’.

We believe it’s vital that processes remain up-to- date, otherwise their effectiveness and credibility will be compromised. It’s a matter of being proactive, rather than considering drugs and alcohol testing as just a ‘box-ticking’ exercise.

A lack of consistency could also pose a problem. Only just over a quarter of businesses that operate from more than one location carried out the same level of testing across them all.

The news certainly wasn’t all good. Worryingly, a sizeable 46.7% of the businesses who responded told us they don’t actually carry out testing at all.

Indeed, there does seem to be a disparity between good intentions and what happens in practice. Over 90.4% of respondents replied that they regard staff education and training as ‘very important’ or ‘extremely important’.
However, only around 40% said they actually provided their people with refresher training on drugs and alcohol on at least an annual basis.  There could be a number of reasons for this – such as business pressures, people changing roles within the organisation or the costs of providing this training.

And even if they do have drug and alcohol procedures in place, fewer than half of respondents were confident that these would actually stand up in court.

There’s a huge difference between paying lip service to carrying out drugs testing and genuinely addressing the issue. If their policies aren’t sufficiently rigorous, businesses who fall into the former category could be just as vulnerable as those who fail to introduce testing procedures at all.

Increasing numbers of UK companies do, however, appear to be recognising the need for drug and alcohol testing. For example, just over a quarter believed that up to 1 in 10 employees have drugs in their system at any one time.
However, the answers here were very varied, as is often the case when a wide range of choices is offered. Less than 10% knew the correct answer that 1 in 30 people are under the influence of drugs in the workplace. In reality this figure will be higher, as the 1 in 30 statistic comes from a scientific white paper produced from samples taken from companies who have a policy in place and carry out drug and alcohol testing. Many SMEs simply don’t have the resources to do this, and other companies will have their own reasons for not doing so.

Interestingly, over half of the respondents were of the opinion that there was an increase in employees testing positive for drugs between 2007 and 2011 of between a significant 11% and 30%.

The good news is that some 57.3% of companies do already have a health and wellbeing programme in place for their employees.

This shows that UK businesses are continuing to adapt, with the aim of improving their working environment and the support they offer their staff. We hope now that this development will translate into the revision and application of drug and alcohol testing policies.

The survey results make us feel confident that UK businesses are starting to respond to the changing times. For instance, 62% of respondents told us they would be interested in looking at new technologies such as smartphone apps for drug testing during their next policy revision.


Many UK businesses appear to appreciate the importance of having drug and alcohol testing policies and procedures in place. However, there are still too many who haven’t implemented these measures yet, or who have neglected to keep them up-to-date.

Society is changing all the time, with new drugs and ‘legal highs’ constantly becoming available, and the implications of your employees having drugs in their system could be catastrophic – not only for the health and safety of the individuals concerned, but for the reputation of your business. The main drivers for most businesses are profitability along with a healthy happy workforce with high productivity. Whilst having a health and safety policy in place has been commonplace for nearly all companies for many years, the all-important “return on investment” of a robust drug and alcohol policy has always proved far more difficult to quantify. One of the largest transport and logistics companies in Europe has shown enormous financial benefits since introducing their policy and testing regimes, showing an industry-leading 20% reduction in RIDDOR accidents!

With our extensive knowledge of drug and alcohol testing, as well as our acute insight into its place within UK businesses, Alere Toxicology is ideally placed to help you safeguard the welfare of your employees and your organisation.

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