Drugs and Alcohol

by Ian Robinson

Steps to writing a policy

There are five steps involved in writing an effective policy:

  • Step 1 – Planning
  • Step 2 – Consultation
  • Step 3 – Getting started
  • Step 4 – Implementation
  • Step 5 – Monitoring and review.


Before you start developing your policy, you will need to consider a number of issues. It’s important to identify the needs of your particular business. The policy must also be consistent with your staff guidelines and contracts. It’s also important to integrate this policy with others, such as those relating to health and safety.

  • Define the need.

Do you currently have a problem? Carry out a risk assessment (see below, or the topic on Risk Management) to identify the issues that your organisation is concerned about or that are already impacting upon you. Consider such things as accidents, incidents, sickness, absenteeism, disciplinary problems, staff concerns and the organisation culture (for example, drugs are often rife in high pressure jobs, especially if the team is largely composed of young people, where drugs such as amphetamines may be commonly sold and used).

  • Set the aims and objectives of the policy.

Setting these at the beginning will aid you when you come to design the policy.


It’s important to consult staff.

  • Audit the workforce. If you carry out a full audit of the workforce, you will be more likely to identify the issues of concern and the vulnerability of individuals. Among the issues to be considered are
  • Organisational culture
  • Availability of alcohol at work
  • Social pressures to drink
  • Social acceptance of drugs
  • High pressure jobs
  • Other workplace pressures and processes
  • Conduct problems
  • Sickness rates
  • Domestic problems and pressures.
  • Inform your staff that you intend to produce and promote the policy. They should also be consulted as this will assist in the ‘ownership’ of the policy. Consider the use of an outside agency to carry out this process, assuring employees of confidentiality and making it possible to gather the ‘true picture.’ In addition to the staff being consulted, ensure that others who may be affected by the policy are also consulted. Consider
  • The board of directors
  • The organisation solicitor
  • The organisation doctor or occupational health people
  • Senior managers and supervisors
  • Human resources
  • Training department
  • Health and safety
  • Trade unions and staff associations.

Getting started

The next stage is to design and draft the policy.

  • Decide how the draft should be compiled and who should write each section. Consideration should be given to identifying members of staff who may have the necessary skills to write particular sections. For example, the process of how a member of staff should be dealt with if disciplinary action is being considered should involve a member of the HR team. Alternatively, an outside organisation or consultant could be employed for this process. Check that the policy is not at odds with existing related policies, such as disciplinary or grievance procedures.
  • If necessary, you may need to hold further consultations, including discussions with staff and trade unions.
  • Once your draft policy is complete, you need to gain the appropriate approval (this may need to be at board level).


If a policy is to be more than a dust collector, it must be fully and carefully implemented.

  • Ensure that all staff are informed about the policy by arranging a formal launch. Consideration should be given to designing a poster clearly stating the organisation’s position. A leaflet outlining the policy should be circulated to all employees.
  • Provide training to all line managers on how the policy should be used and consider giving drug and alcohol awareness training to all staff.

Monitoring and review

If a policy is to be effective, it must be kept alive after the initial launch.

  • Include an annual review as part of the policy.
  • After any drug- or alcohol-related issue has been resolved, examine how it was dealt with and consider whether any amendments to the policy are required.
  • If necessary, revise any related policies, such as disciplinary or sickness policies, and ensure that any updates to these remain in line with the drugs and alcohol policy.

Risk assessment

A risk assessment is a prerequisite before an organisation policy can be developed. A full risk assessment will not only identify any existing problems, but will also identify potential problem areas, such as

  • Organisation vehicles and drivers regularly travelling abroad, with the potential risk of drugs being brought back into the country
  • Work environments, such as call centres, where there is a pressure to achieve targets and work long hours; these could be open to the use of drugs such as amphetamines and could be targeted by drug suppliers
  • Sales staff who regularly entertain clients, involving the drinking of alcohol, and then driving motor vehicles.

It is recommended that a specialist company be consulted or employed to carry out the risk assessment on your behalf as this is a specialised area.

In addition to considering the issues already identified, the risk assessment should include a search of the organisation premises and vehicles. This should be carried out by trained competent staff making use of drug search dogs or electronic detector equipment, if appropriate (see Searching).

The organisational culture must also be taken into account, together with the views of the employees.