Australian employers know there are always critics of workplace drug and alcohol testing. However, after much debate and analysis, the Australian government has recognised that drug and alcohol testing is a strategy for improving health and safety or else there would not be industry-specific legislation already in place that requires or supports drug and alcohol testing. They include industries like coal mining, railways, the military, prisons, aviation, and others.1 Also serving as proof that drug and alcohol testing benefits workplace health and safety and lowers employer risks is the increasing use of testing in a greater variety of workplace situations. The recognised types of testing programs include pre-employment screening, random testing, for-cause testing, and post-accident testing.
Not Substance Free? No Job!
Pre-employment screening is drug and alcohol testing done before a person is hired. There is general agreement that this type of testing is quite justifiable. Why should an employer assume the risks associated with someone already known to be using drugs or alcohol? The people who test positive during pre-employment only prove that they care so little for their health and chances at employment that they are unwilling to stay substance free. They are presumptuous enough to expect to be hired despite their substance use.
One of the advantages of pre-employment testing is that the employer can set the rules because the person is not employed. If someone does not want to work for the business, then that individual can choose to not apply. Some employers are concerned that job applicants have become expert at cheating on the drug and alcohol tests by using adulterants. If successful, and the person is hired into a high-safety risk position, the consequences can be tragic. There are adulterant tests for urine specimens, and the employer has a right to require urine testing during pre-employment even if saliva testing is used after employment. Adulterant testing of urine samples especially makes sense when hiring for positions like pilot, engineer, miner, prison officer, and so on.
Random testing is another type of drug and alcohol testing program, and this approach has been tested in court and allowed by law, as long as it is as fair as possible. In random testing, the entire workforce is tested over time but only a certain proportion during any particular testing period. In a truly random testing program, people are randomly selected using a random number generator or some other selection method that does not indicate the names of the people. This will help avoid any appearances of targeting certain people. This is a procedurally fair process and should include take into consideration whether non-safety versus safety-sensitive positions need testing at the same rate.2
There are almost no critics of for-cause testing as long as the program is not abused. In this type of program, employees are screened when there is a reasonable suspicion the person is under the influence of some type of substance. To avoid abuse, employers must never use the program to harass or punish particular workers. Also, the “cause” should be fairly obvious. For example, the person is stumbling around, speaking incoherently, becoming violent, performing work in such a way that it jeopardises the safety of co-workers, and so on. The behaviour should be well-documented to support the employer’s actions should there be a legal issue arise at a later time.
Adapting to Circumstances
There is actually another type of for-cause testing that is not included on typical lists of types of drug and alcohol testing. The “cause” in this case is an employee transferring or promoting into a safety-sensitive position from a low-safety-risk position. For example, an office worker moves into a position requiring operation of heavy equipment.
Yet another type of drug and alcohol testing is post-accident testing. This also has very few critics because the employee has already been involved in an accident or a near miss. It is up to the supervisor to manage the department in a way that ensures workers report all minor accidents and not under-report to avoid testing.
The many types of drug and alcohol testing programs reflect the importance of maintaining a substance free workplace. The employer has a duty to keep the workplace as safe as possible. The choice of program types is the employer’s decision and should take into consideration the type of business, the typical work of employees, and the appropriate response to certain events. No matter what type of drug and alcohol testing programs the employer puts in place, CMM Technology can provide the appropriate high-quality supplies and equipment as well as expert advice to ensure you do not do it incorrectly.
1. Australian Law Reform Commission. (2014). The Use of Genetic Information in Employment. Retrieved January 04, 2013, from Australian Government: http://www.alrc.gov.au/publications/29-use-genetic-information-employment/use-health-information-employment
2. Ken Pidd, Ann Roche & Michael White. (2011, October). Workplace Drug and Alochol Testing. Retrieved from NCETA and Flinders University: http://nceta.flinders.edu.au/files/3313/2200/4798/Workplace%20Drug%20Brochure%20sml.pdf