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Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Testing question - drugs at work
Ecstasy and marijuana
A little "pick me up" to ease the working day
By BBC News Online's Joe Goodden

If you've ever resorted to a cup of coffee to keep you alert through long office hours, don't worry, others have done far worse.

A survey this week reveals one in three people have taken drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine, cannabis and amyl nitrate at work.

The survey, by Time Out magazine, also shows many employers are ignorant of such widespread drug use among staff. Only one in seven regular drug users had been confronted by a boss.

In the United States, this sort of activity has led many employers to insist on testing their staff for drug use.
Chris Evans
The BBC denied Chris Evans's claim that half its staff were on drugs

About 46% of private companies in the US require workers to submit to tests either as a requirement for getting the job or on a random basis.

But how common is drug testing in the UK?

BBC News Online contacted a handful of blue-chip companies in the UK and asked each for its policy on drug testing. Three of those questioned - Railtrack, BP and Shell - admitted to some form of random drug testing.

Railtrack said it randomly tests 5% of employees.

"We have a policy against drugs and alcohol. Any worker discovered to be using drugs would be sacked immediately," a spokeswoman said.

BP said it was company policy to test all people who work offshore. Drug testing was commonplace in the oil industry, said a spokesman.

"For people on the mainland it's harder to enforce, but they would certainly receive advice or discipline if they were found to be using drugs."
Daniela Nardini
Anna, of BBC Two's This Life, was caught taking cocaine at work

Another oil company, Shell UK, who said people in key positions routinely undergo drug testing.

"Whenever a work contract is renewed people undergo medicals, which can include testing for drugs," said a company spokesman.

Yet other major companies, including BMW and British Airways, did not have a policy on testing workers for drug usage.

There is little doubt that drug taking at work is a problem for employers, but experts are divided on how to tackle it.

The government's drugs tsar, Keith Hellawell, has backed random testing, saying that drugs in the workplace lead to diminished productivity.

"Drugs lead to impaired judgement, and higher levels of absenteeism and staff turnover," he has said.

But others feel this approach is too authoritarian.
Dr Clive Froggatt
Dr Clive Froggatt, former advisor to Mrs Thatcher, stole heroin from work

The UK charity Business in the Community has backed a national initiative to persuade businesses to become more involved in tackling drug use.

According to the civil rights group Liberty, the issue of testing depends on the role of the worker.

"If the use of drugs affects the work involved, then employers have a legitimate reason to test their workers," said Liberty's Deborah Clark.

"For example, if a train driver takes drugs, there is a health and safety risk.

"However, in circumstances where using drugs recreationally would not affect work performances, we believe to test people is an infringement of human rights," she said.

Yet the law does not agree and any company has the right to test for drugs.

The Institute of Personnel and Development has carried out two studies into random drug and alcohol testing in the workplace. It found that testing is becoming increasingly common.

Diane Sinclair, advisor at the IPD, said whether companies checked for drug use did not necessarily depend on work sectors.

However, she said testing is particularly unusual in the financial services.

"In 1998 only two out of 152 financial organisations that we spoke to had policies on random testing for drugs alcohol."

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04 Apr 00 | Health
'15-year-olds use heroin'
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