How to Handle Substance Misuse in the Manufacturing Workplace

How to Handle Substance Misuse in the Manufacturing Workplace

How to Handle Substance Misuse in the Manufacturing Workplace

Posted: 08/02/2019

Alcohol and drug misuse in the workplace can cause significant problems for any business, however, this is particularly the case for the manufacturing industry. Heavy machinery and fast paced production lines mean that any mistakes can not only be costly to a business, but may also result in serious injury to the individual or others around them.

Tackling the issue of alcohol and drug misuse can greatly benefit your business. For example:-

  1. Improving performance;
  2. Reducing absenteeism;
  3. Avoiding the need to recruit replacement staff;
  4. Improve health and safety; and
  5. Enhancing the public perception of your business as a responsible employer.

Dealing with the issue head on may in the first instance seem daunting, however, we outline below a number of steps which will help you to deal with the subject effectively.

Educate yourself

Whilst many employers are aware of the impact alcohol consumption can have on an individual’s behaviour or judgement, most are not fully aware of the impact drug misuse can have.

A sensible starting point is to increase your knowledge base and awareness of both the types of drugs available and the effects they can have on the user. This information will also increase your alertness to potential side affects you can look out for.

Consider whether there is already a problem amongst the workforce

Whilst initially you may be of the opinion that no members of your staff misuse drugs or alcohol (either inside or out of work) there are a number of key records that can be of assistance:-

  1. Attendance records – a sudden change in sickness absence patterns, or a clear history of taking time off at the start of the week could indicate a problem.
  2. Behavioural changes – an increase in aggression or withdrawal for example.
  3. Lack of motivation/poor performance – has the employee’s output rate reduced inexplicably or are more mistakes being made?
  4. Disciplinary action – has the employee committed acts of misconduct in the workplace?

It is important to keep in mind that many of the above examples could easily be explained by some other issue, such as stress, problems at home or an underlying health condition. Caution should be exercised before tackling the issue.

Put in place a clear policy

Even if your assessment leads you to conclude that it is unlikely there are any substance misuse issues in your workplace, it is good practice to have a policy in place to ensure that all employees are aware of the approach taken by the business in response to such issues, enabling you to deal with any future problems clearly and strategically.

The policy can make the businesses approach to substance misuse abundantly clear, whether that be zero tolerance or a more holistic supportive style.


A clear training programme can work hand in hand with the alcohol and drugs misuse policy, and can take many forms depending upon the infrastructure of your business.

Some employers provide training to all of their staff members, outlining symptoms and behaviours to look out for, and providing guidance on how any issues should be reported.

Others limit the training to the management team only, and focus upon how a manager should deal with any issues or reports received.

Putting the policy and training into practice

Once the groundwork has be laid, it is important that businesses actually follow through and use the tools that they have put in place.

If disciplinary action or a performance management process is implemented, it is important to ensure that a fair and compliant procedure is followed in accordance with the applicable employment law legislation. If not, there is a risk that in some circumstances, the employee may be able to pursue claims in the Employment Tribunal.

Additionally, it is important to note that whilst an addiction such as alcoholism is not deemed to amount to a disability itself in accordance with the Equality Act 2010, some of the knock on effects may be, such as depression or liver cirrhosis.

In light of the above, it is strongly recommend that legal advice is obtained before taking any action.

Drug testing

Drug screening in safety-sensitive industries such as manufacturing is becoming more and more popular. For example, where working under the influence of drugs could give rise to health and safety considerations or serious damage to the employer's business.

That being said, testing can raise a number of issues such as cost and how in practice an independent non-contaminated sample can be obtained.

Testing should be done with employee consent (although an employer may make withholding consent a disciplinary matter). Further, employers must also comply with the data protection principles relevant to sensitive personal data.

 If you have any concerns about substance misuse in your business, or wish to put in place a structure to deal with any potential future issues please contact Christine Hart on 01772 229 832 or