Drug and alcohol testing, an essential requirement or just a minefield?

Anyone who has tried to enforce a drug and alcohol testing program knows that it can cause more problems than it seems to solve. The aim of a testing program is to eliminate the risks that workers impaired by drugs or alcohol may bring to your workplace but they can also expose your business to other risks such as discrimination, unfair dismissal or privacy complaints.

Drug and alcohol abuse or misuse is often difficult to identify without testing as it is not confined to a particular age, gender or family background and workers may be able to hide the effects until it is too late. A testing program can be an excellent deterrent as well have significant flow on effects such as higher productivity, lower employee turnover and a safer work environment.

The barriers to effective programs can include the cost, and the complexity of programs which must consider various legal implications such as industrial relations, privacy, and work health and safety. Some key considerations to ensure any program you put in place is a success include:

  • Consult with and educate workers on the reasons why testing is a necessity and the implications for non-compliance;
  • Develop a company specific policy. Off the shelf policies may seem like a good option however if they don’t accurately reflect your business and how you want to manage drug and alcohol issues you may find yourself with an unenforceable policy or a policy which you have to follow but does not add value to your business;
  • Ensure your program clearly identifies the who, what, when, and how.
    • Who the program applies to (i.e. all workers, vehicle operators).
    • What you will test for.
    • When you will test (i.e. pre-employment assessment, randomly, after an incident).
    • How you will conduct the tests (i.e. internally/externally, saliva / urine samples)
    • What constitutes a positive result and what action will be taken in different scenarios (i.e. positive or non-negative results);
  • Consider what assistance you will make available to employees if they are willing to seek help for their drug or alcohol problem;
  • Ensure your policy is in line with your other health and safety and human resource policies in place;
  • Ensure that the privacy requirements for managing sensitive personal information (medical records) are appropriately considered;
  • Ensure internal resources have the qualifications and skills to implement your program and that testing equipment is properly calibrated and accurate;
  • Ensure any action you take is in line with your policy and legislative requirements (i.e. just and reasonable and not discriminatory); and
  • Review your program annually to ensure that it is current and remains effective taking into consideration changes to drug use trends and business operations.

Ensuring that you get all of these things right can be a minefield however drug testing is essential to most businesses. The consequences of ignoring drugs and alcohol can be obvious (incidents and injuries) or subtle (increased mistakes, rework or low productivity). Regardless of whether a person is driving an excavator or answering phones, a worker impaired by drugs or alcohol will always be prone to committing mistakes in judgment. If in doubt of your business’s internal resources it is always best to rely on an industry professional to make certain that your testing is compliant and will hold up to scrutiny.

If you are considering drug and alcohol testing for your workplace, give us a call!