Proposed drug driving limits nothing to do with safety
A couple of years ago the Government announced that they would be introducing a “drug-driving” limit, similar to that to drink driving. Many people welcomed it because it would produce a limit that employers could also use to check whether a person was capable to work.
Of course it is not as simple as that. The TUC view is simple. Drugs and work do not mix, but nor should employers try to control what a person does in their own time. The biggest problem in the workplace is the use of alcohol and prescription drugs, but employers need to negotiate policies that deal with problems in a non-judgemental, supportive way that ensures that workers are also protected from anyone who may be under the influence of drugs. We have also opposed the use of routine drug-testing in all but safety-critical jobs.
The Government has recently announced that it plans to have drug-driving limits in place later this year. So what does it mean in the workplace?
Some employers will think that they will now have a test that will tell if someone is impaired. However it will not do that. In part it is because the Government has ignored a recommendation by its own experts. They recommended specific limits based on the evidence of what would impair someone who is driving. They also produced a second threshold limit for those who have also drunk alcohol.
The recommendations from the expert group covered most of the common illegal drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin. It also covered a number of prescription drugs such as valium.
The Government however decided that it would not accept these recommendations for illicit drugs and instead decided to use its own limits which were as near as possible to zero. In some cases such as Ecstacy, the legal limit will be one twentieth that recommended. For heroin it will be one sixteenth. Every one of the illegal drugs has had the limit slashed. They have done this because they want to turn the proposal into one of social control of drugs rather than a road safety proposal. This is made clear by the fact that every one of the recommendations for prescription drugs has remained the same as the experts proposed. So we now will have the position where if a person is prescribed morphine there will be a drug-driving limit of sixteen times that of a person without a prescription.
This means that there will now be, in law, “safe” limits for drugs in relation to driving that are based, not on evidence, but on politics. This is simply at attempt to prosecute people for any illegal drug use as the Government clearly admit claiming that the limits are based on a “Zero tolerance” approach.
The problem that we have is that many employers will see these limits as being ones they can use in the workplace. As a result we will get a big increase in drugs testing with employers claiming that anyone “over the limit” is incapable of working and will be disciplined or even fired.
Yet these limits are a nothing to do with safety. The ones for prescription drugs may well be too high for some safety critical jobs, after all would you want people running a nuclear power station if they are just below the drink driving limit? The ones for non-prescribed drugs however will not show whether a person is capable of working, but simply what they might have done the night before.
Unions will therefore have to be on their guard for employers using the new thresholds as an excuse to introduce drugs testing in the workplace under the guise of safety when clearly they are about control.
For advice on drugs testing see the TUC guidance This will be updated if the new proposals become law.
The TUC has also produced guidance on drugs and alcohol