Which Electricians Get Drug Tested and Why

Having just driven past someone on the roadside getting breathalysed, it got me thinking about the whole issue of electricians getting drug and alcohol tested whilst at work. The question, do electricians get drug tested?, is an interesting one so I decided to do a little research and expand on what I already know from personal experience.

Electricians get tested for a wide range of banned substances
Electricians get tested for a wide range of banned substances

Electricians can be drug and alcohol tested at any time during the working day as part of their employer’s health and safety policy. Although the electrician can refuse to provide a sample, the refusal itself is usually grounds for disciplinary procedure to begin.

Throughout my career as an electrician I have personally been tested for drugs and alcohol 9 times. Over time you learn the type of situations when you can expect to be tested, which we shall take a look at below.

Let’s first check drug testing of workers is ok and that I haven’t been subject to some illegal activities by my previous employers!

Is it Legal to Drug Test Electricians in the UK?

It is legal for an employer to request a drug test from electricians and other construction workers in the UK. The employer must gain consent from the employee and procedures must be put in place, such as ensuring the selection process is random or there is just cause to single out one employee.

The below image is from the government website:

UK Government website shows drug testing of employees is legal
UK Government website shows drug testing of employees is legal

We can see that the government supports drug and alcohol testing in the workplace but employers must;

  • Limit testing to employees that need to be tested
  • Ensure the employees selected for test are via a random process
  • Not single out employees unless this is justified by the nature of the job

So now we know it’s legal to drug test employees and I’ve not been subject to some horrendous rights abuse, let’s look at when and how often it takes place.

When Do Electricians Get Drug and Alcohol Tested?

Electricians can get drug tested at various times including;

  • As part of the pre-employment checks for a new job
  • At random intervals throughout our time with our employer 
  • As part of the induction process when beginning work on a new construction site
  • At random intervals whilst working on construction projects
  • When selected for testing via our employer having justification
  • Mass testing of all workers on construction sites

When we begin working for an employer it will usually have in our contract which we sign that we agree to pre-employment drug testing and at random times throughout our employment. 

The pre-employment part is pretty self explanatory. In my experience the random tests are usually at the end of meetings where the boss will announce certain people have been randomly selected to be tested.

Before we can work on any construction site we must undergo a site induction. These can range from an hour to a full day courses that give the principle contractor (the main contracting company running the overall project) the opportunity to explain all the construction site’s rules and procedures. Sometimes part of this will include a drug test before being allowed on site.

Once working on site you must agree to abide by all the principle contractors rules, including being subject to random drug and alcohol tests, if they have this as part of their health and safety procedure. Complying with the necessary site rules can be a challenging part of being an electrician but with most sites having a yellow and red card policy everyone knows not to break the rules.

The construction firm Skanska are one of the largest in the UK. Below is a snap shot of their policy on drugs and alcohol, I’ll link to the full policy here. Anyone wishing to work directly for Skanska or work on one of their controlled sites must abide by this policy

Construction company Skanska's policy on Drugs and Alcohol
Construction company Skanska’s policy on Drugs and Alcohol

Why Do Electricians Get Drug Tested?

Electricians get drug tested as part of a companies health and safety policy. The construction industry is heavily committed to reducing injuries at work. Ensuring workers on construction sites are not intoxicated plays an important part in this.

Health and safety is a huge part of the construction industry. If a serious injury occurs on site the repetitional and financial damage to the company can be huge.

Employers have a legal responsibility to show that they are doing everything they can to reduce accidents in the work place and drug testing is another tool they can use.

The Health and Safety Executive has guidance on drug and alcohol testing on their website, linked here, as imaged below.

HSE website contains information regarding Drugs and Alcohol at work
HSE website contains information regarding Drugs and Alcohol at work

I think most of us understand why drug testing is an important aspect of construction work, but is the frequency increasing?

How Often Do Electricians Get Drug Tested?

How often an electrician gets drug tested depends largely on the construction site they are working on. Some sites carry out weekly random drug testing where as others don’t test at all. However, it does appear that the number of companies drug testing employees is on the rise.

I asked a few electrician friends how often they had been drug tested and these are the results

How Many Times Have You Been Tested at
Work For Drugs or Alcohol
Number of Electricians who Answered
1 – 3 times3
4-6 times7
7-9 times8
10 times or more3
Table showing results from survey asking electricians how many times they have been drug tested throughout their careers

Although it’s handy to get a gauge of how often electricians are tested it must be said most people questioned struggled to remember an exact number so it was more of a best guess scenario on their part.

Everyone questioned seemed to feel that drug testing was becoming more common and was an accepted part of the job. It was also a little sad to hear that plenty of others, like myself had witnessed tradesmen failing drug and alcohol testing. To back up this general feeling, this article states that in their research 26.3% of workers tested positive!

I’ve noticed that sites which test construction workers as they enter usually pick a Monday morning because they feel most people would have had the weekend off, (more on working hours can be found here)

How Do Electricians Get Drug Tested?

Saliva Drug Test Kit
Saliva Drug Test Kit: Source

The two main types of drug test that electricians and other tradesmen are likely to have to take are a urine test and a saliva test. In my experience, the saliva test is more common as it is an easier test to be carried out

Saliva test kits like the one pictured, available to buy here, require you to put the cotton like substance in your mouth for 5 or so minutes before placing in the test tube and waiting for the results to indicate. Having these kits in your mouth isn’t very pleasant as they dry out all the moisture and leave you feeling a bit like you’ve been drinking sand.

Urine samples are more stringent with outside agencies being employed to come into work places to carry out the test. 

It’s also worth noting that breathalyser tests are used (they look like the ones police use) to test tradesmen for alcohol. Most contracting companies that I’ve worked for have a zero tolerance policy to alcohol. Even if you are under the legal limit for driving you will still face disciplinary action for any alcohol in your system whatsoever.

I can’t comment on the accuracy of each of the tests but this website seems to be a leader in the field of employee drug testing and you can buy the test pictured here.

What Happens if an Electrician Fails a Drug Test?

If an electrician, or any other tradesmen fails a drug test whilst at work they will be subject to the companies’ disciplinary procedure. The construction site you are working on will ask you to leave site and not return. This can make for a very difficult conversation with your employer.

I’ve witnessed tradesmen fail the drug test during the induction process and have to step outside to ring their boss and explain why they are not allowed on site. It’s not a nice situation at all.

How much trouble the employee gets in with their own company is down to their disciplinary procedure but in todays health and safety conscious workplace employers have to take a hard line to show they are taking their own health and safety responsibilities seriously.

There are plenty of dangers already faced by electricians.Taking a risk by going to work intoxicated is not a good idea to say the least

Dave Nicholas

I have worked as a professional electrician for many years and like to use my experience to help others in any little way I can.

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