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How to avoid being made to look like a dope when testing employees for drugs.

Published 05 June 2017

Former newsreader Angela Rippon (1) made headlines of her own last week in highlighting problems with employers drug testing staff.

The 72-year-old TV presenter tested positive for opiates (2) after taking a test to demonstrate how employees can fail a workplace drug test without taking an illegal substance.

The programme Rip Off Britain: Food (3) looked at the case of a former power station worker who was fired when a routine drug test showed opiates in his system.

It was after the male worker had toasted and eaten a couple of slices of bread for breakfast. Angela Rippon also failed a drug test after eating poppy seeds in a loaf of bread (4).

The show explained how drugs tests are becoming more common in work environments where employees drive, operate heavy machinery or where the job is a matter of public safety.

Employers have to adhere to strict guidelines and have consent from employees if they wish to drug test staff (5).

The tests can identify if an individual has recently consumed alcohol or taken prescription or illegal drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine or opiates. Testing conducted by approved screening companies is largely reliable..

Organisations can benefit by having a clear policy on alcohol and drugs and ensuring that it has been communicated to all staff. ACAS lists key points that should be considered when producing such a policy and it includes employers taking an effective and consistent approach to problems and suitable training for managers (6).

Workers cannot be made to take a drugs test but if they unreasonably refuse when there are good grounds for testing, the employer may be justified in taking disciplinary action. For employers it is important to keep an open mind and ensure that any investigation is done fairly and correctly (7).

The Health and Safety Executive has produced a guide in association with a number of organisations including the Home Office and the Department of Health, to help organisations deal with drug-related problems at work (8).


  1. Angela Rippon. In: Wikipedia [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2017 Jun 5]. Available from:
  2. Opiate/Opioid painkillers | FRANK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jun 5]. Available from:
  3. Rip Off Britain, Food: Series 4: Episode 1 [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jun 5]. Available from:
  4. Association P. Angela Rippon tests positive for opiates in poppy seed experiment. The Guardian [Internet]. 2017 May 29 [cited 2017 Jun 5]; Available from:
  5. Being monitored at work: workers’ rights: Drug testing - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jun 5]. Available from:
  6. Alcohol and drugs policies | Acas advice and guidance. 2008 Feb 29 [cited 2017 Jun 5]; Available from:
  7. How to conduct a disciplinary investigation. [Internet]. Castle Associates Ltd. 2015 [cited 2017 Jun 5]. Available from:
  8. Alcohol and Drugs at Work - Drugs Misuse [Internet]. [cited 2017 Jun 5]. Available from:



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