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Drug and alcohol testing in aviation

There are few industries where controlling drug and alcohol consumption is as important as in aviation.

A recent study by the National Transport Safety Board in the US found that 28% of pilots who were fatally injured in accidents had at least one substance in their bloodstreams that could cause impairment at the time, and impaired cognition or reaction times in ground staff can also put lives in danger.

It’s vital that employers are aware of what they can do to keep their workforces – and any passengers for which they’re responsible – as safe as possible.

What the regulations say

To meet International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards and comply with UK legislation, employers are obliged to ensure that their staff are not under the influence of any psychoactive substances that could impair their capacity to act.

This includes alcohol at levels above 20mg alcohol/100ml blood (or 80mg/100ml for licensed aircraft engineers), which in practical terms means that they should avoid drinking for 24 hours before a shift. Employers have a duty to protect the rest of the workforce by ensuring that no individual breaks these rules, and they are authorised to use drug and alcohol testing to achieve this.

Creating a practical policy

How can employers realistically enforce this? Proper training for all personnel – explaining the reason why following the rules is so important – is essential, as is ongoing monitoring.

It’s also advised that employees are encouraged to talk to their supervisors if they think that they might be developing a problem with alcohol or an addictive drug such as cocaine, and to make sure that they have access to information about other sources of help. They are less likely to engage in dangerous behaviour if they know not only that they might get caught, but also that admitting to a problem won’t result in instant dismissal.

Workplace testing

One of the most effective ways to reduce risky behaviour is to conduct spot checks in the workplace. Using multi drug dip cards makes it possible to test for several substances at once, with instant results. You can choose which substances you want the card to check for or test for different things on different occasions in order to make it harder for employees to get around tests by changing their choice of drugs.

Prescription medication

When it comes to aviation, it’s important to note that a number of prescription drugs can also compromise safety. Opiate painkillers such as co-codamol or tramadol can slow down reaction times and impair concentration. Anyone working in aviation should check that medicine they’re prescribed isn’t on the banned list and discuss alternatives with a doctor if necessary.

Strictly enforcing drug and alcohol regulations in the workplace means that aviation companies can be much more confident that their employees will perform to the highest standard, significantly reducing the risk of accidents. It also means that employees can feel secure when relying on one another, creating an environment that is more professional and more positive for everyone.

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