DRINK, DRUGS AND WORK DON'T MIX; the Problem of Alcohol and Drugs Abuse Is Invading the Workplace with Potentially Devastating Effects on Performance. What Can Employers Do? Helen McGurk Reports

By McGurk, Helen | The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), August 26, 1997 | Go to article overview

DRINK, DRUGS AND WORK DON'T MIX; the Problem of Alcohol and Drugs Abuse Is Invading the Workplace with Potentially Devastating Effects on Performance. What Can Employers Do? Helen McGurk Reports


McGurk, Helen, The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland)


The menace of drug and alcohol abuse does not always keep after- work hours but can seep into the workplace - for this reason many of the Province's employers have had to adopt a line on drugs.

Studies conducted in the United Kingdom suggest that about one in 20 employees is likely to be a drug abuser, with a high incidence among 17- to 29 year-olds - but are these statistics relevant to Northern Ireland?

After only 14 days in business, a Portadown-based drugs consultancy firm was contacted by three prominent Northern Ireland companies seeking help for employees with drug problems.

Mark Proctor who set up the company says that people seek solace in drugs, legal and illegal, to help them cope with the increasing pressures of work.

According to Mark, one of the biggest problems at the moment is abuse of the sleeping pill, Tamazepan - although there is also a high incidence of cannabis abuse.

''Companies have the right to protect themselves and employees from drugs. If I am contacted by an employer I will go and assess the extent of the problem. As a last resort we would implement drug-testing, but we try to avoid this at all costs as it is expensive and creates bad feeling, '' says Mark.

People on drugs at work pose a serious threat not only to themselves - especially if they are operating machinery - but also to the health and safety of their colleagues.

The drug/alcohol problem raises many important questions like should employers take on the role of policing their employees - unless their behaviour or ability to do the job is affected?

The answer depends very much on each individual company, but many employers already make the possession, or being under the influence, of alcohol or drugs a serious disciplinary offence, generally subject to summary dismissal.

There has been growing concern that one side-effect of the affluent Eighties has been residual drug abuse, prompting companies to introduce policies to their employees' contracts.

Most large banks in Britain now have provisions in place to help employees with drug and alcohol problems.

British Rail has had a strict policy against employees' consumption of drugs and alcohol since the last century, but the 1992 Transport and Works Act made it a criminal offence to be intoxicated in charge of a vehicle.

The increasing pressure on employers to introduce substance abuse policies which take the drugs or alcohol out of the work-place rather than the employee is helping to create a growth industry in drug-testing, both at the pre-employment stage and for existing employees.

Industries where safety is critical such as energy, pipelines, transport and shipping, as well as the armed forces, have been testing employees for several years.

The trend is spreading into the business world, particularly in the finance and information technology sectors and across the water to Northern Ireland.

Conditions of Employment at Harland and Wolff as issued to all employees state: ''Employees found to have been drinking or supplying alcohol or other intoxicants brought onto company premises, or who in management's opinion are unable to work satisfactorily or safety because of the influence of intoxicants, drugs etc, will be dismissed."

A spokesman for Shorts said that the company updated their alcohol and drugs policy in 1990.

''Every occupational health department in Shorts has a display with leaflets giving guidance and advice on drugs. We take part in Drinkwise day and have in place a voluntary health surveillance programme. …

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