Drugs and Employment

Friday, June 19th, 2009 - DWP, economics, Employer, Employment, health, professionalism, recruitment, tutorial

Drugs and Employment

Un peu de fumée...

I have wanted to publish this article for ages, but held back for a while. But its a Friday, I am under a bit of pressure, and so I thought – why not!

As a recruiter in a regulated market place – HGV driving – I think we probably get at best a secondary look behind the emergency services and the police about the level of drug usage in the UK at present.

To get an HGV or PSV license you need to take and pass a medical, which includes a drugs test. They don’t take a big phial of blood, just enough to find the trace elements in your blood. Clean – and effectively that means not having taken a class A drug regularly, or in the last 3months; or smoked a joint in the past month – and you will probably with a normal metabolism pass.

Our drugs experience

We still regularly get applicants in for new driver positions, who follow up on our pre-recession initiative to train new drivers. Most HGV recruiters do this, there was pre-recession a shortage of drivers, and there will be again when the economy picks up, and the one third of drivers who have to retire before 2013 do so. We would ask applicants to fill in an application form, one question of which was “Do you take non-prescription drugs of any form, on a regular (ie more than once a month) basis?” We would get the occasional yes, and we would explain how long they would need to be clean to pass the test – most of those people we never heard from again. Of those who replied no, there was occasionally some pretty good Google CV evidence of their at least causal drug taking, mainly cannabis smoking. We would call every applicant, explain some rules of application including the drugs questions, and then ask them in.

When they arrived at the office, we had a purposeful administration error! We would get them to fill out the application form again. We hence legally had two copies of the same form, with the same (possibly – we didn’t give them the original copy: interesting to find the differences!) answers. We would then interview them, and repeat the issues we had gone over in the telephone interview, including drugs. The fee for the medical is £120 from the DVLA, which would would cover if they passed – they covered it if they failed on any drugs related issue. At this point, a third of our applicants dropped out – and yet they had still answered twice to YES in their own hand writing that they didn’t take drugs. Of those who took the test, around 5% failed.

Drugs in the UK

What does this data tell me about drugs usage in the UK? First its endemic, and across all parts of society – there was little variation across education, class or background. Secondly, its gone beyond an illicit once a lifetime teenage try to a regular release for many. Thirdly that most when faced with the facts of not being able to do something, do stand up and accept their drug usage – but some don’t, and according to the non-individual based data we get back, are some of the hardest users.

What does it say for me to employers? We are in a clear position with truck drivers: “the government/DVLA says you have to pass the medical test, and if you don’t you can’t get trained.” But if you want to employ factory workers where drugs testing is not compulsory, or office workers were most wouldn’t be covered by a Health & Safety issue, you have to have adequate catch-and-recover systems inside your HR department to cope with this normalisation of drug taking. If you add in the reduction in young people in the coming years, and their probably greater acceptance of drugs in their lives, then the equation will be totally switched to helping recover to retain over the present assisting to recover approach.

Government drugs policy

However, the biggest lesson for me is for the Government. Simply, your present policies are not working, and young people are taking drugs without knowing the consequences. We had a young lady apply last year, and on the day she was due for her medical I got a call from the clinic which administered the tests to ask to come up urgently. She was found positive for cannabis, trace elements of cocaine – and was pregnant. She lost the baby 4weeks later, after joining a drug rehab programme. The counsellor who talked it all through with her told her over some sessions the truths about drugs – she hadn’t know what the effect of cannabis could be, let alone remember having unprotected sex: except the first time she took cocaine was one hell of a party at around that time. She’s now training to be a drugs counsellor, and in the mean time attends a schools programme which educates children on the consequences of taking drugs – ie: that which she was never told.

As an employer, I have to accept that people take drugs. Personally, never liking needles, the most I ever got up to in college was a couple of pills to keep me DJing – like most students then, I couldn’t afford to sniff anything up my nose. But now I am told, Crack Cocaine sells on our streets for less than £5 – which would be pretty good value for a school child Saturday night, let alone a college or university student on perhaps a twice weekly basis.

If you are thinking about taking drugs, my suggestion would be no – or at least before you do, know the facts and consequences. If you are an employer, what are your procedures for coping with staff who have a drugs problem which effects their work? As part of a “care before discipline” choice, early catchment and rehab looks cheap compared to the cost of finding and training a new employee.

Good Luck!

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One Response to “Drugs and Employment”

  1. The Courier Shop » Blog Archive » Drugs and driving for a living Says:

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