Marketing Manager, Impairment and Detection Europe, Draeger

April 2, 2024

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Drug and alcohol testing in a UK airport environment

Portable technology solutions for in-house testing were recently implemented at a UK airport. Mark Burrup, at Dräger Safety UK explains the benefits of such a process.
Workplace drug and alcohol testing is becoming an increasing area of focus for many businesses, particularly in light of the rising prevalence of mental ill-health and its impact on employee wellbeing. Issues of concern relate not only to illegal drug and excessive alcohol consumption having the potential to affect safety in workplaces, but also to prescribed drugs, which can affect people’s responsiveness, concentration and decision-making capabilities.

UK Airport

CREDIT: Unsplash/Maeva Vigier

A UK airport employing around 150 people, plus additional contractors, first brought in a drug and alcohol testing policy in 2017, however if there were an incident or a suspicion of someone working under the influence there was a delay due to the dependence on an external contractor to undertake a urine sample, impacting the effectiveness of the test and this service was also expensive.

The airport looked for a more practical solution, and opted for portable devices from Dräger which work by using a saliva sample (for drug testing) or a short blow into the device (for alcohol testing). The saliva sample  is quick,  easy , non-invasive, and  provides an observable sample collection, which is difficult to adulterate, and demonstrates recent drug use.

Sharp focus

The airport’s new approach was brought into sharp focus when the airport’s Health and Safety Manager was notified about a colleague who was suspected to be working while under the influence of alcohol. The colleague in question was in a risk-critical role, and it was imperative that the allegation be investigated properly in order to ensure safe operations, and also safeguard the wellbeing and safety of other colleagues.

The individual denied there was any issue, however, with reasonable grounds to suspect there was a problem, it was mutually agreed that a testing programme would be appropriate. At the same time, the HR department provided pastoral support.

Testing was undertaken every day for six weeks, this consisted of the individual blowing a breath sample every morning. The airport Health and Safety Manager comments: “It was extremely simple to operate – the device made it clear when the person should start breathing and when they should stop, and a reading was displayed a few seconds later, together with a traffic-light system showing whether no alcohol, some alcohol, or a level of alcohol over the legal limit was detected. Each test was clear, which was a great relief to all concerned, and we subsequently reverted to random testing, however, sadly, shortly after this, a randomly-timed test revealed the same person to be over the prescribed limit for alcohol detection as defined by the company policy.”

The individual was suspended immediately to allow him to seek help via his doctor and support meetings. While doing so, the company continued to support him, ensuring he remained on full pay, and checking in with regular welfare calls. After two weeks, he returned to work, but shortly afterwards decided to leave his job.

“It was a very sad case to be involved in, but when you consider the risks involved had we not been able to identify the issue and take action, it’s unthinkable. It was a huge relief to be able to conclusively know what we were dealing with and be able to test so frequently and easily,” concludes the airport Health and Safety Manager.


The incident prompted a revision of the airport’s drug and alcohol policy to include random tests on a quarterly basis, and testing for all new starters, backed up with comprehensive laboratory-based confirmatory testing if required.

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