Why Carry Out Employee Testing in the Utilities Industry?
Employees within the utilities industry face health and safety risks every working day; this is due to their job roles involving manual labour, use of dangerous machinery and hazardous working environments. These risks increase for workers who carry out field based work or work in offshore locations due to their environments constantly changing.
Human error is associated with the highest frequency of injuries within the utilities industry. The chances of injuries occurring are increased if an employee is abusing drugs or alcohol; this is due to chance of human error increasing as a result of the effect to their cognitive ability i.e. loss of concentration and judgement.
Companies involved in incidents relating to drugs and alcohol can face detrimental and costly consequences including damage to company image, loss of trust, and legal prosecution. In addition it can result in serious consequences for the employee, their fellow co-workers, contractors, customers, and third party companies.
With the utilities industry combining various sectors, risks to employees vary as a result of the different job roles and working conditions of each:
Oil and Gas Production
Significantly, 99% of the UK’s oil and gas production comes from offshore locations which are often remote and isolated. Offshore utilities jobs are physically demanding and have a high safety risk associated. Accidents that commonly occur are in the areas of maintenance and construction, deck operations and drilling operations. Often, injuries are a result of being struck by a moving object, tripping or falling, falling from a height, or contact with machinery.
To minimise risks to health and safety, oil and gas production requires a productive and focused workforce. This is to ensure all job roles are carried out effectively, from drilling activities to safety inspections; consequences of such roles not being carried out properly include compensation claims by employees involved in drilling rig accidents, offshore blowouts, sunk rigs, and structural collapses.
As an employer responsible for the safety of employees, conducting workplace drug and alcohol testing in the oil and gas industry is a proactive way to minimise incidents by ensuring a competent workforce and a safe and healthy working environment.
Electric Power Supply
Employees working in the electricity sector of the utility industry are at risk of one or more occupational hazards at any one time. Various hazards include high-voltage contact, working at a height, working in confined spaces, challenging weather conditions due to outside fieldwork and risks involved in welding and cutting activities.
In the UK there are more than 60,000 cable strikes within the utilities sector each year, many of which result in serious injury or death. As a result of health and safety risks, employees must be focused at all times; the use of drugs and alcohol prohibits this. Workplace drug and alcohol testing can be an effective measurement in minimising incidents as far as reasonably practical (a legal requirement for all employers); it acts as a deterrent to staff, as well as identifying issues of substance abuse before an incident occurs.
Steam and Water Supply
Employees working as plumbers, pipefitters, or steamfitters within the utilities industry have a high risk of injury from sharp tools, burns from hot pipes and soldering equipment, and falls from ladders. As common injuries the risks of these occurring are greater for employees under the influence of drugs and alcohol due the effects they have on the body and mind. As a result, implementation of a workplace drug and alcohol testing policy would be a positive approach in trying to reduce injuries and manage risks.
Sewage removal employees are exposed to dangerous chemicals and infectious diseases. There are rigorous policies in place to minimise the chance of related illnesses such as occupational asthma and inflammation of the lungs, or diseases such as hepatitis and Weils disease (transmitted via rats’ urine causing flu-like symptoms). Policies include measurements to minimise microorganisms entering the body through hand to mouth contact or cuts and scratches, and include strict hand hygiene measures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The use of drugs and alcohol can cause not only carelessness or judgement errors, but also a disregard to the health and safety of self and others. Therefore such policies may not be followed, and cause danger to the employee and their fellow co-workers. In addition public safety could be affected; policies and procedures not being followed could result in hazardous chemicals or sewage being spilled, resulting in a danger to the health of the general public.
Workplace drug and alcohol testing ensures issues of substance abuse are found before such incidents occur, and is a proactive effort by employers to minimise risks to health and safety.
Rules and Regulations
There are many rules and regulations for the various sectors within the utilities industry and various regulatory bodies to enforce them. In regards to drugs and alcohol the majority prohibit the misuse of drugs and alcohol and the distribution, sale, or possession of illegal drugs, particularly in the case of offshore operations. In addition the possession or misuse of some controlled substances, including prescription drugs, is often prohibited offshore. Employees found involved in such activities can lead to grounds for termination of employment.
Some offshore facilities allow for an alcohol test result of 40 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.04 BAC); above this level they are deemed unfit for work due to the increase in accident probability. In high-risk workplace situations, such as employees in safety critical roles, the alcohol limit is generally 20 mg or alcohol per 100 ml of blood (0.02 BAC) as a result of reduction in cognitive and sensory performance, perception and information processing above this level.