Rise in drugs tests at work 'has no effect on safety'

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The Independent Online

Millions of employees face an "explosion" in compulsory drug testing at work despite little or no evidence that it prevents drug abuse or dramatically improves safety, a new study concluded yesterday.

Millions of employees face an "explosion" in compulsory drug testing at work despite little or no evidence that it prevents drug abuse or dramatically improves safety, a new study concluded yesterday.

The Independent Inquiry on Drug Testing at Work (IIDTW) warned that allowing bosses to investigate private drug taking and alcohol consumption was "in conflict with liberal-democratic values". The 18-month study concluded that poor working conditions, excessive workloads and stress had a greater impact on safety at work.

Meanwhile, a Mori poll conducted for the inquiry found that 78 per cent of employers would introduce testing if it led to productivity gains. Nearly one in three bosses did not accept that testing infringed an employee's human rights.

The report said: "We could be on the cusp of an explosion of drug testing in the UK", and went on to warn that workplace drug tests could soon become "a fact of everyday working life".

It called for new restrictions to stem the rise and recommended that the Government should step in to limit them to occupations where there were legitimate safety concerns. But it said there was still a "lack of evidence for a strong link between drug use and accidents in safety critical industries".

Current techniques can reveal the presence of prescription drugs required to treat medical conditions that workers may wish to keep private, while also revealing recreational drugs that may have been taken weeks earlier, long after the effects have worn off.

Ruth Evans, who led the study, said: "The fact is, whatever we've done this weekend ... the way we live our private lives affects the way we perform our work. But the question to ask is: at what point does it become a matter of legitimate concern for our employers, and does it justify investigating what we get up to outside work?"

The study accepted there were legitimate arguments for testing workers in industries where safety was paramount. British Airways and Transport for London have already introduced compulsory testing.

The police should also be tested to maintain public confidence, the report said. But, the report concluded: "There is no justification for drug testing simply as a way of policing the private behaviour of the workforce, nor is it an appropriate tool for dealing with most performance issues."

The study was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in association with the charity, DrugScope. It took evidence from employers and employees, drug-testing laboratories, trade unions and business organisations, police, doctors, lawyers and drug experts.

Calling for greater clarification of existing laws, the report warned that surveys showed the number of employers using drug tests was expected to triple over the next year. Only 4 per cent of the employers questioned currently conducted tests but 9 per cent said they were likely to introduce them in the next year.

The report's authors fear that Britain could undergo a similar rise to that in the United States, where drug testing is a multibillion-dollar industry.

Ms Evans said: "We are in danger of slipping into a situation where employers are taking on a quasi-policing role with respect to the private lives of their staff."

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