There is no arguing the fact that workplace drug testing can be controversial as people raise privacy issues. Should the employer be able to figure out that an employee used cannabis 2 days ago? Is it fair to force people to submit to an alcohol or drug test when they prefer not to? Clearly, more and more employers and government agencies are instituting random drug testing programs because they believe the answer to these questions is “yes”. Even more court cases are being settled in favour of employers enforcing testing of employees for substance use to ensure workplace safety, and state and territory laws are becoming more supportive of testing for a variety of employee groups. For employers, the real issue is the high cost associated with not doing alcohol and drug testing in the workplace.

Recently it was reported in the Lancet medical journal that Australia and New Zealand populations have the highest rate of cannabis usage at 10 to 15 percent and the highest usage rate of other drugs like speed and crystal methamphetamine at 2.8 percent. Professor Wayne Hall with the University of Queensland’s Centre for Clinical Research was quoted as saying, “Among the most common harms were drug dependence, overdose deaths, accidents, violence, HIV-AIDS and other blood borne infections.”1

Testing Costs Are Low Compared to Costs of Not Testing

Each one of these harms and a lot of others can directly impact an employer’s bottom line. Many discussions about workplace drug testing focus on managing the direct costs like the cost of testing equipment or the labour cost of program administration. However, the low cost of today’s effective drug testing equipment and certified laboratory testing can be dwarfed by the cost of not testing and not knowing the status of substance use and abuse in the workplace.

  • Estimates gleaned from Australian and USA studies indicate alcohol may contribute to approximately 5 percent of work related fatalities2
  • When sued in court, an employer without an alcohol and drug testing program can be found in breach of the general duty, required by law to provide a safe workplace, if someone is injured due to the use of alcohol or drugs by co-workers
  • Worker turnover leads to high tangible and intangible costs associated with employee replacement that include the costs of recruiting and training, and the loss of the exiting employee’s skills, training, knowledge, expertise; empirical data indicates that lost productivity accounts for two-thirds of total turnover costs3
  • Cost of reduced job performance by substance abuser requiring co-workers to either re-do work or fill in for employee using alcohol or drugs
  • Cost of lost productivity through job withdrawal behaviours like taking long lunch breaks, sneaking extra breaks, spending time on non work related activities and sleeping on the job

A 2008 report on the costs of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug use identified quantifiable tangible costs for households, businesses and the government. The following statistics for 2004/2005 were reported for businesses:4

  • Costs of lower productivity in the workplace due to alcohol consumption is estimated to be at least $3.6 billion due to alcohol and $1.6 billion due to illicit drugs
  • Costs of absenteeism as those who drink alcohol are 1.2 times more likely to be absent from work compared to those who don’t drink
  • Employees are 3 times more likely to be injured leading to increased workers’ compensation and disability claims
  • Health insurance and workers’ compensation costs soar due to increased medical and hospital expenses of $192 million related to drugs and alcohol
  • Vehicle accidents lead to workplace disruption costs plus associated legal, vehicle and insurance expenses costing businesses $576 million
  • Increased workplace criminal activity like theft costing over $1.4 billion

The total annual tangible costs to business associated with alcohol misuse were over $5.6 billion. The costs for illicit drug abuse were $3.2 billion. However, it is impossible to measure the full costs of alcohol and drug use in the workplace. For example, how do you measure the real cost of an employee trying to work under the additional stress of completing job duties with a co-worker who is under the influence of a substance?  

The cost of employee alcohol and illicit substance use in the workplace runs into the billions of dollars each year. The cost of not instituting alcohol and drug testing is simply too expensive to forgo. Mediscreen at offers high quality flexible alcohol and drug screening services that can help you contain the potentially high cost of employee substance abuse.


1 AAP. (2011, October 4). High Society - Australia tops list of drug users. Retrieved from

2 Reps@Work, OHS. (2011). Alcohol and Work. Retrieved March 5, 2011, from OHS Reps@Work:

3 Davidson, Michael C.G; Nils Timo; and Ying Wang. (2010). How much does labour turnover cost? A case study of Australian four- and five-star hotels. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management , 22 (4), 451-466.

4 Collins, David J. and Helen M. Lapsley. (2008). The costs of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug abuse to Australian society in 2004/05. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.