As the Company Medical Advisor, my primary concern is the safety and wellbeing of everyone that works at National Grid. It’s imperative that we have the right safeguards in place to prevent accidents that could be caused by individuals who might be under the influence of drugs or alcohol – we just can’t afford to be complacent.
Certain industries, such as oil, gas and nuclear, as well as many others are already ahead of the game in this area; having introduced a zero tolerance culture when it comes to drugs and alcohol in the workplace along with random testing.
National Grid isn’t here to police our lifestyle choices, but it does have a responsibility to its employees and the society that it serves; to make sure that when we turn up for work, we’re fit to work.
The new UK drug and alcohol policy is in place to reinforce that. The introduction of random drug and alcohol testing next spring is just one way of making sure that we have the right safeguards in place to protect our employees, the people we work with and the people we work for from anyone who may be under the influence of drugs and alcohol while working at National Grid.
Drug and alcohol misuse
We have seen a shift in the use and misuse of drugs and alcohol in recent years. Drink driving is now socially unacceptable and most people will make the right choices; using public transport or getting a taxi rather than getting behind the wheel at the end of a night out. However, one in five drivers (7.6 million) still admits to driving the next day with enough alcohol in their system to fail a breath test.
A survey by Drinkaware* found that over half a million people turned up for work suffering from the effects of too much alcohol each day and a binge-drinking culture has only added to the problem in the workplace. Stimulant drugs like cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy are now more widely available and the demand for them is on the increase.
Drug and alcohol misuse can affect learning, judgement, decision making, mood, memory and behaviour but, despite being aware of these harmful outcomes, many people who use drugs continue to take them.
The social effects of ongoing drug and alcohol misuse can be widespread, catastrophic and can quickly spiral out of control. Individuals can become dependent very quickly, given the right (or wrong) set of circumstances. Once an individual is dependent on drugs or alcohol everything else becomes a secondary concern for them. This can lead to job loss, family break-ups and significant financial issues.
Our workforce is representative of the society we live in. Although we don’t know for sure that there is a drug and/or alcohol problem within National Grid, we don’t know that there isn’t one either. To really be a responsible and safe employer, we owe it to everyone to make sure that we are running the safest operation we can throughout our organisation.
As part of the policy update, we have improved the support that we offer individuals who actively seek help if they believe that they might have a problem with drugs and/or alcohol. National Grid recognises that employees who have (or are developing) a dependency need support. In some cases dependency on drugs and alcohol can be defined as an illness.
A major part of our policy is to offer confidential support to any employee who voluntarily comes forward; whether they chose to speak to their line manager, team leader, supervisor, HR or Occupational Health. Whatever the circumstances in which help is sought, the Occupational Health team is involved in any treatment programme – so that they can assess the level of dependency, make suitable medical referrals and provide appropriate management advice to the Company (including adjustments and return to work programmes).
I have worked in a number of different industries and have seen how the misuse of drugs and alcohol can impact people’s lives and the lives of those around them. I’ve had conversations about drug and alcohol issues with people from all levels of those organisations – from apprentices to very senior managers. I have also seen how policy, like the one we have at National Grid, has helped an individual recognise that they may have a problem and encouraged them to seek help. Random testing is ultimately a deterrent. It’s a way of making people think twice about their life choices and reflect on their own well-being as well as the well-being of those around them.
About Dr Greg Irons
Dr Greg Irons is the Company Medical Advisor at National Grid. He is a consultant Occupational Physician who worked in a number of NHS hospital roles before specialising in occupational medicine. Since then he has worked extensively in the international oil and gas industry, both on- and offshore, and he currently holds senior occupational health posts in a number of companies, including the nuclear sector and a utility network provider.
His experience and expertise has helped shape the new UK Drugs and Alcohol Policy, and improved the wellbeing support that is now available to anyone who proactively comes forward if they have any drugs and/or alcohol related concerns.
*The Drinkaware Trust is an independent UK-wide alcohol education charity. The survey was conducted in May 2010.