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Drug Testing in the Workplace

Laws on random drug testing in the workplace

Drug testing can be quite a difficult and time-consuming policy to establish. Remember, an organisation must have consent from its employees to test them for drugs. This consent is usually included in the individual’s contract.

The law imposes various requirements on employers who wish to undertake random drug testing in the workplace. These include:

• limiting drug testing to the specific group of employees that the organisation needs to test

• ensuring the tests are random

• not singling out an employee unless justified by the nature of their job.

If there is a policy, with procedures in place and an employer has good reasons for testing for drugs — whether it is essential to do so for certain roles or where there is reasonable cause to believe an employee is under the influence — and someone refuses to take the test, the employer may resort to disciplinary action.

Dealing with drugs in the workplace

So, once an organisation has established when testing is applicable, how does it go about the testing?

There are three different types of workplace drug and alcohol testing.

  1. Pre-employment: This tends to be the most common form but it’s also the least effective. This is because it’s based on a urine sample that an individual can easily dilute or substitute.
  2. Post-incident: As the name suggests, testing in this case follows a health and safety incident.
  3. Random: When a group of individuals consent to testing and you pick a handful of them to test at random.

To effectively test for drugs, the testing must be carried out by an individual with the correct qualifications from the UK Accreditation Service. They’ll conduct the testing.

The testing procedure must also comply with the International Standard for Laboratories. Failing to do this will mean the results are void.

Drug tests tend to work in a similar way, no matter which substance you are testing for. The most common package test is for cannabis, cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, benzodiazepine, and opiates.

What to do if drugs are found in the workplace

If you happen to find physical evidence of employees using or storing drugs in the workplace, you still have to follow your process.

  • Refer back to your drug and alcohol policy and stick to it.
  • Document where, how, why, and who found the drugs, as well as any witnesses, previous complaints, concerns or behaviours.
  • Meet with the employee to discuss the situation — you should bring your documents with you to support this. Make sure a third party is present as a witness.
  • If the discussion with the employee is inconclusive, you may request the employee submits to a drug test.
  • If the employee refuses to take a test you may go down the disciplinary route — including terminating their employment if necessary.

The organisation should consider to what degree, if an employee is found to be using drugs, it will offer help and support. Actions might include arranging sick leave for treatment and arranging for referral to a treatment service.

How to create a drug and alcohol policy

The aim of this policy is to clearly set out the company’s position on drugs and alcohol within the workplace. You should include this in your Health and Safety Policy.

  1. The policy should define when the use of drugs or alcohol is an issue (For example within working hours or when it interferes with work capability or conduct, etc). Make sure that you have considered the effects of prescription drugs too.
  2. Then, it should define when the organisation might request a drug test or conduct an investigation.
  3. It should then give direction to employees who suspect a colleague is under the influence, ideally pointing them to a particular contact they can speak to.
  4. Finally, the policy should detail the company’s support and disciplinary procedures and how it will relate to anyone using drugs or alcohol in the workplace.

You may also want to create a separate document that specifically covers drug testing. The document needs to be specific to your organisation and work activities.

Contact us should you wish to discuss this topic or create a policy.

 

Sitting V Standing

Sitting v standing — the risks

The health risks of sedentary work, for example, among office workers who sit in front of computers for the vast majority of their day, have been well documented in recent years.

Prolonged standing at work: the law

According to the HSE, while there is no specific legislation that relates to prolonged standing, the risk to employees’ health and safety from working in a standing position would fall under the general provisions of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and its associated regulations, e.g. the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

The HSE therefore advises that pragmatic controls that consider both seated and standing work are identified through an appropriate risk assessment.

Crucially, the HSE also emphasises the importance of involving and engaging the workforce in the risk assessment process, as staff can provide feedback on their workstation and practices that can lead to pragmatic and sensible adjustments.

How to reduce the risks from standing

Job design is a critical factor in protecting the health of staff who need to stand during their working day. The basic principles of good job design for standing work are as follows.

  • Change working positions frequently so that working in one position is of a reasonably short duration.
  • Avoid extreme bending, stretching and twisting.
  • Pace work appropriately.
  • Allow workers suitable rest periods to relax; exercises may also help.
  • Provide instruction, training and supervision on proper work practices and the use of rest breaks.
  • Allow workers an adjustment period when they return to work after an absence after illness so they can gradually return to a regular work pace.

Specific points to consider could, depending on the type of work, relate to the following:

  • Working tables and benches should be adjustable. If the workstation cannot be adjusted, platforms to raise the shorter worker or pedestals on top of workstations for the tall worker should be considered.
  • Organisation of the work space is another important aspect. There should be enough room to move around and to change body position.
  • Where it is possible, a seat should be provided so that the worker can do the job either sitting or standing.
  • Quality of footwear and type of flooring materials, including anti-fatigue mats, are also major factors contributing to standing comfort.

Workers should go home healthy

The HSE’s current Go Home Healthy campaign is targeting the musculoskeletal health of workers as one of its three key focuses, along with work-related lung diseases and stress.

Employers should be aware that static and fixed postures from prolonged standing can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), along with a range of other health issues.

In the context of the campaign and work involving prolonged standing, an HSE source warned against the pitfalls of starting with appropriate footwear or anti-fatigue matting. Rather, employers are encouraged to:

  • first assess the overall design of the work process
  • reduce the need for fixed, static or awkward postures
  • provide appropriate workstation design features (for example height adjustable stations and appropriate seating)
  • organise the work to include rest breaks or job rotation to avoid muscle fatigue.

Certainly, thereafter, appropriate footwear and matting could also contribute to the overall risk reduction of the work.

Again, employers should rather be moving up the hierarchy of controls to think about the design of the work activity, rather than relying on training alone and the HSE has published advice for employers on how to get the right type of help in this regard.

Conclusion

An HSE source had the following to say about avoiding MSDs for staff who need to spend time working in a standing position:

“Fixed and static postures at work such as prolonged standing can affect workers’ health, making it more likely they will experience leg and lower back pain. It’s important that employers work with their employees to consider pragmatic solutions to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal problems — such as balancing sedentary and active work, rotating jobs, and providing rest breaks, appropriate workstations, and suitable equipment — to help ensure that workers can go home healthy.”

If you require advice, please contact us, Walker Health and Safety Services Limited.

 

Diabetes in the workplace

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition where the body is unable to regulate its glucose levels as a result of either the pancreas failing to produce insulin, or insufficient insulin to help glucose enter the body’s cells. Alternatively, the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance (IR)). These are the two main types of diabetes:

  • type 1 is a less common condition, usually developing in children and young adults; with this type of diabetes, the body is unable to produce insulin to manage glucose levels in the blood
  • type 2  is far more common and mainly appears in adulthood; in this type of diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin or the body’s cells do not react to insulin.

Genetics certainly increase the chances of getting both types of diabetes, but it is accepted that certain factors, particularly overeating and a sedentary lifestyle increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Other factors include age, being overweight or obese, body fat distribution, family history and ethnicity.

Diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, vision problems and lower limb amputation if it is not properly controlled.

Diabetes and safety in the workplace

While it is a serious condition, diabetes is a very common lifelong health condition that does not hinder people’s ability to get a job or to keep one. The law requires that people with diabetes be assessed on their individual ability to do a job and not to be discriminated against simply because they have the condition.

However, some safety critical jobs will have legitimate health requirements that may exclude people with certain medical conditions. There are some key areas of employment, such as driving long goods vehicles or those carrying passengers, where there are restrictions on people with insulin-dependent diabetes.

Concerns about workplace safety in relation to diabetes tend to be associated with the development of hypoglycaemia — a state of low blood glucose. Symptoms of hypoglycaemia can include hunger and dizziness as well as confusion and unconsciousness. Hypoglycaemia is commonly perceived as a concern for people with type 1, rather than type 2 diabetes, although hypoglycaemia is a potential risk for anyone using insulin and many people with type 2 diabetes are insulin-dependent.

In contrast, hyperglycaemia occurs when blood glucose is high because the body has too little insulin or is improperly using insulin, resulting in symptoms such as hunger, thirst and frequent urination. Left untreated, hyperglycaemia can lead to diabetic coma. However, the symptoms of hyperglycaemia generally develop over hours or days and do not occur suddenly. Therefore, hyperglycaemia does not pose an immediate risk of sudden incapacitation.

Diabetes awareness at work

It is estimated that around half a million people in the UK have diabetes but are unaware that they have it. Given that many of us may also be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future, Diabetes UK says that holding a diabetes awareness day could make a big difference to the health and wellbeing of staff (see Diabetes UK website for information in this regard).

Employers could of course also use their existing wellbeing programmes to raise awareness about the condition, including information about the value of keeping active, eating healthily and maintaining a healthy weight.

Type 2 diabetes isn’t inevitable. Up to 80% of cases of type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented, so it’s important that everyone understands their risk, so they can reduce their chances of ever developing the condition.

Mental Health and Work

Contact us for further information.

 

 

Are Your Staff Feeling the Heat??

With the recent heat waves, thermal comfort in the workplace is now becoming something of a challenge for many employers. Whilst there is no maximum workplace temperature specified in the UK, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that workplaces shall be maintained at a ‘reasonable’ temperature. What is ‘reasonable’ will depend upon the nature of the work, but according to the HSE, an acceptable level of thermal comfort lies somewhere between 13°C and 30°C.

Workers likely to be most at risk include catering staff, outdoor workers e.g. horticultural workers, maintenance personnel, process workers and employees who must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as breathing apparatus or impermeable clothing. Employees working in offices which do not have air conditioning are also likely to be affected by hot weather.

It is important to continue wearing PPE during extreme temperatures. However, encourage staff to remove them during break times to cool off, sit in the shade or a cool area and drink plenty of fluids, this will help to reduce heat stress. Heat stress is where the body is under stress from over heating. Heat related illnesses include heat cramps or heat stroke, each with its own symptoms and treatments. Symptoms can range from profuse sweating, heat rash, fainting, loss of concentration.

10 Top Tips for Dealing with the Heat

  1. Consult with your employees to establish reasonable levels of thermal comfort for the majority, but accept that you won’t be able to please everybody.
  2. Carry out a risk assessment and identify employees who are most susceptible to heat stress, e.g. pregnant women. Consider altering work patterns to reduce the level of risk by job rotation, working at cooler times of the day. Limit exposure of outdoor workers by providing sunscreen and suitable clothing, e.g. long sleeves and hats.
  3. Modify the working environment by providing mobile air conditioning units, but not oscillating fans, as these simply circulate warm air. Use window blinds or shades to help reduce the effects of heat and solar gain.
  4. Provide more frequent breaks in a cooler environment – the hotter the working environment and more strenuous the work, the more frequent breaks should be.
  5. Ensure a constant supply of drinking water and stress to staff how important it is to maintain hydration at work. Caffeine-based drinks can actually speed up dehydration, as they are diuretic. Coffee also speeds up metabolism, thereby increasing body temperature.
  6. If you have a dress code, consider relaxing it, as it’s better to have productive, casually-dressed employees, than employees who must leave work because they feel unwell.
  7. Ask staff to turn off electrical equipment when leaving the office. Power used to keep items on stand-by is dissipated into the workplace as heat.
  8. Do big print runs and other heat generating jobs in the cooler part of the day.
  9. If office temperatures are unbearable for some, consider allowing them to work from home.
  10. Review PPE provision to see if there is any which is cooler and more comfortable and which can offer the same (or better) level of protection.

Your risk assessment must take into account factors such as temperature to protect your employees, as well as helping you stay on the right side of the law.

If you require advice please contact us.

 

 

Slips and Trips

Slipping and tripping are the most significant causes of major workplace injuries and lost working time, therefore it is certainly sensible to undertake a review of the risks within your premises.

The review process should include the collation of all relevant information based upon:

 

  • documentation review: manufacturers’ data, risk assessments, accident and near miss reports, and complaints received, housekeeping arrangements etc
  • verbal information: interviewing those who were involved in the recent incident as well as others from previous incidents, or those who have had near misses
  • physical evidence: undertaking an inspection, observations of work activities and further investigation of any flooring and traffic routes within the premises.

In larger workplaces, to undertake an effective review, it may be sensible to divide the premise into smaller areas and undertake a “mapping exercise” to identify any particular matters of concern.

Although aimed at Safety Representatives, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) mapping tool (available at www.hse.gov.uk/slips/mappingtool.pdf) can identify potential hotspots and the potential causes of slips and trips. All relevant data from the documentation review, verbal information and physical information can be used to populate the map of the area under review.

In terms of recommendations, the HSE also has a useful checklist of potential issues and possible action to take in relation to various slip and trip issues.

Contact us if you would like to discuss your options.

Walker Health and Safety.