Police chiefs were at loggerheads last night over proposals to introduce random drug tests in all work places.
Earlier in the day, Dr Ian Oliver, Chief Constable of Grampian, called on industry to make greater use of drug sampling to help tackle Britain's narcotics epidemic. Dr Oliver said drug abuse was "endemic" in major cities and most rural areas. Police forces alone could not tackle the problem and employers, together with Customs, the courts, teachers and health workers, had a "legal and a moral responsibility" to join in the battle.
But his suggestions were rebuffed by Keith Hellawell, chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers Drugs Sub Committee and Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police Force, who last night criticised any move towards greater testing in the work place as misguided and a waste of resources.
"I'm sceptical of the overall effect it would have on the drug problem. It's widely held now that a substantial number of hard drug addicts are unemployed," said Mr Hellawell. He added that experiments in schools and companies in the US have had no significant effect on the problem of abuse.
He went on to say that he supported random testing for people involved with public safety or at risk themselves, but he added: "To suggest any person in the work place is tested as a matter of course would seem to be out of proportion. The potential invasion of privacy and the difficulty in distinguishing between illegal drugs and prescribed drugs are just two of the problems this would cause."
Dr Oliver proposed that companies should change existing staff contracts and draw up fresh contracts for new recruits to introduce random testing.
A survey by the Confederation of British Industry in 1993 found that 8 per cent of firms tested their employees or new recruits for drugs.
Compulsory drug testing for all new employees is becoming increasingly common. Most random testing is confined to industries involving a potential risk, such as oil and transport companies. However, a growing number of financial institutions are also carrying out tests.
Dr Oliver said he would set an example by introducing mandatory testing for the 1,200 officers he commands as early as next month.
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