Some things never change because they are based in solid business principles and practices. Benchmarking is one of them. It is a process designed to give business leaders a method for assessing organisational results against similar companies in the industry and has specific goals. Benchmarking increases accountability, increases commitment at all levels, and promotes a proactive rather than a reactive approach to whatever is benchmarked. Drug and alcohol programs and health and wellness programs are two areas that can benefit from benchmarking. Linking the two programs together and applying benchmarking increases effectiveness, results, and acceptance across the organisation.

Support for health, wellness, and safety programs has to begin at the top of the organisation and flow downward. An important element of occupational health and safety is maintaining a drug and alcohol free workplace. Benchmarking can play a critical role in making the business case for the programs, but it also provides information that enables the programs to be placed in context. This increases acceptance because it gives staff members something to compare against. It is the difference between saying, "The policy is no drugs and alcohol allowed," versus "The policy is no drugs and alcohol, and self-analysis indicates our processes and procedures are effective (or need improvement)."

Beyond Statistics

Though it is important to have a drug and alcohol policy, it is also important to make sure that people understand that occupational health and safety and drug and alcohol testing are not simply programs to be managed. They are integral to business success as concepts that have the most impact on performance. As such, they are considered management systems involving much more than simple statistics like number of positive drug tests or number of accidents involving alcohol. Systems also involve policies and procedures, risk assessments, training, resources commitments, job design, and so on. Benchmarking does not just compare statistics between the organisation and world class industry leaders, though it is commonly viewed that way.

When benchmarking is used properly and applied to occupational health and safety and drug and alcohol programs, it will produce the type of information that strengthens them. That information includes better understanding of the current structures and systems; identification of system strengths and weaknesses; identification of barriers to success; goal setting; comparison of processes and systems against industry leaders; and acknowledgement of best practices.1 For example, the evaluation process may uncover a workplace layout that needs revision to lessen stress and thus reduce the probability of drug use. Or it might indicate the random drug and alcohol testing program is not effectively linked to the occupational health and safety program and so acceptance of testing is low. There might be issues raised about the workplace culture, pre-employment screening process, work practices, or follow-up procedures when an employee test positive for one or more substances.

The Big Picture

Too often, businesses design and implement programs but fail to evaluate their effectiveness over time, and this is particularly true for occupational health and safety programs and drug and alcohol policies and procedures. Effectiveness in this case refers to the much more than simple test counts and comparison of results to industry leaders. Programs are evaluated as whether employees voluntarily adopt healthy lifestyles, worker attitudes toward the drug free policy and testing program, minimisation of workplace risks, and so on.2 Drug and alcohol programs are a component of the larger OHS program and together they should form a top down management system.

It is impossible to cover the benchmarking process in a single article, but an excellent resource is the Worksafe Australia manual titled Benchmarking Occupational Health and Safety. The main point to keep in mind is that benchmarking involves much more than simply comparing statistics. It is a process that focuses on evaluating and strengthening management systems. When applied to drug and alcohol policies and procedures, the process links them to the bigger health and wellness processes. The end result will be stronger program in terms of effectiveness and enhanced worker understanding of its broader role.

One of the many areas that can be benchmarked includes accuracy of drug and alcohol testing results. 


  1. Worksafe Australia. (1996, June). Benchmarking Occupational Health and Safety. Retrieved from
  2. Australian Government-Comcare. (2010). Effective Health and Wellbeing Programs. Retrieved from