British workers who use ‘legal highs’ thinking they are harmless and carry no legal penalties may still be risking their lives, their health – and their jobs.
According to the results of the latest Global Drug Survey, 20% of British respondents admitted that they had taken drugs one or two hours before going to work. In addition, 10.9% used what they described as “a mystery white powder” – highlighting what the survey calls the UK’s ‘reckless attitude’.
So-called ‘legal highs’ are synthetic or designer drugs, sometimes produced to be used for more benign purposes – such as solvents or plant food.
Others are purposely designed to mimic the effects of more traditional substances like cannabis and amphetamines, although their chemical composition is not banned by existing drug laws. Many of these ‘legal highs’ can be ordered via the internet from suppliers shamelessly exploiting such loopholes in the law.
The Global Drug Survey also points out that consumers may assume that, because these products are readily available via the web, they must be both harmless and of a reasonable quality, whereas in reality they are rarely approved for human consumption.
Now Sound Advice is urging employers to ensure their businesses are protected against the risks posed by staff who may turn up for work still under the influence of substances – whether legal or not.
Danny Clarke, the firm’s Head of Environmental, who also sits on the European Workplace Drug Testing Society, said: “All drugs carry health risks, and that applies equally to these ‘legal highs’.
“In most cases, the chemicals they contain have never been used for human consumption before, so haven’t been tested to show that they are safe. Users can never be certain what they are taking and what the effects might be – or how long those effects may last.
“Staff who are ‘under the influence’ are unsafe – full stop. They could endanger themselves or colleagues, for example, while operating machinery or driving.
“Even people working in apparently less risky environments, such as an office, could pose problems by acting recklessly or without due care. Sending an email containing confidential information to the wrong recipient, for instance, could result in untold damage to the business”.
Peter Mooney, the firm’s Head of Consultancy, urges employers to ensure their workplace policies, employment guidelines and codes of conduct are updated to include provisions for tackling substance misuse of all types – including ‘legal highs’.
He added: “At first glance, it might seem heavy-handed to insist that staff understand that drug misuse could cost them their job. But there are very severe penalties for employers who fail to prevent accidents caused by the actions of an employee.
“Hard as it might seem, it is better to let a worker go than to risk the business going under just because that individual chose to put their own enjoyment above the safety and welfare of their colleagues or the public.
“We know that many people, especially the young, want to experiment, and that some think that if a substance isn’t actually banned by law, then it must be all right. But sadly, some learn the hard way that, in reality, all substances that affect sober choices have their consequences.”