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All employees should be subject to mandatory drug testing, the Met Police Commissioner has suggested in a speech to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cannabis and Children.
Explaining that action is needed to discourage the demand for illegal substances, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe told MPs on Monday (28 January) that help should be offered to anyone who failed a test, but if they refused, they should lose their job. Testing could take place across all occupations, he said, but he singled out teachers, intensive-care nurses and transport workers in particular.
The fear of being fired would act as a deterrent for drug users, he said, adding: “It seems to me we have got to plant in people’s minds something to affect the demand as well as supply. You can think of many occupations where, if you were working with a colleague, you would want to be sure, in fact, that they were drug-free.”
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning (30 January), Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said the costs, practicalities, legal concerns and HR issues far outweigh the benefits of mandatory drug tests.
Conceding that certain safety-critical jobs, such as working in quarries or oil rigs, might justify drug testing, she cited a number of problems, including: the difficulties with setting up the process; potential legal challenges; decisions on whether the tests are announced or unannounced; decisions on whether a witness is present during the test; the possibility of false-positives; productivity issues, with employees potentially staying away from work if they know testing is to take place on certain days; and the fact that because traces of drugs can stay in the system for several days, employers may end up punishing employees who have taken substances on a recreational – and perhaps legal – basis while on holiday.
She added that in the United States, “there is an industry where a few people make an awful lot of money [out of drug-testing] but it is not the best way of tackling issues about drug-taking”.
In June 2011, Conservative MP Jackie Doyle-Price described the growing prevalence of workplace drug and alcohol testing as “great from a health and safety point of view and, through deterrence alone, could be anticipated to lead to fewer industrial accidents”.