Jobs at risk for BR drivers on medication

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

TOUGH new rules on drug abuse mean that train drivers could be dismissed for taking virtually any medicine.

Fresh regulations on drink are also much more stringent than those for motorists, with a limit of 30 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood as opposed to 80 under road traffic laws. Train drivers are advised to moderate their drinking before a morning shift even if the gap is between eight and 10 hours.

British Rail has advised the train drivers' union Aslef that its members could fail drug tests for taking medication which is freely available in chemist shops.

Advice from Terry Worrall, BR's director of operational standards warns that drivers' responsiveness can be impaired by drugs recommended for heart conditions, blood pressure, coughs, colds, flu, diabetes, epilepsy and other fits, musculo-skeletal problems, stomach and bowel disorders, anxiety, depression or 'nerves', allergies, dizziness, vertigo, vision disorders and insomnia.

BR says that sleeping pills could show up in a drugs test because the drug stays in the brain for up to 24 hours. Any alcohol taken within that period would make the effect 'far more potent'.

Drivers are warned that for an average man it takes four hours for alcohol readings to get back to 'zero' after two pints of beer. 'Cold showers, strong coffee and other 'sobering-up' remedies have no effect,' according to BR's advice published in the latest issue of the union's Locomotive Journal.

Other common medication that can impair judgement are cough medicines, painkillers, travel sickness tablets and antihistamines, which are often prescribed for hay fever. Management says that drivers should always ask doctors, dentists or pharmacists about the likely effects of any drug they recommend.

Some train drivers argue that the rules on drugs effectively mean they could be sacked for taking medical advice, others claim that the strict regulations on drink will severely curtail their social life.

Lew Adams, general secretary of Aslef, believes the tough new guidelines could lead to higher absentee rates among drivers who are taking medicine. 'Drivers are responsible people and take great care not to report for duty when unfit. Aslef has always encouraged that approach.'