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Information of interest to our Clients and for the industry


Hiring: should I conduct a pre-employment drug and alcohol testing or not?

Pre-employment drug and alcohol testing has been relatively common in industries such as mining, construction, transport and logistics in Australia.  It is now on the rise in white-collar industries as well, as companies try to prevent problems due to the increase in drug use in Australia.

You’re looking to hire a new employee and are now facing the dilemma of whether or not to conduct pre-employment drug and alcohol testing. As an employer, you have an obligation to eliminate or otherwise manage the risks of inappropriate drug and alcohol use.  However, testing workers for drug and alcohol use can be controversial, but also a vital part of your workplace health and safety program.

There are pros and cons of pre-employment drug testing. For one, it enables managers to minimise the risk of their staff using illegal drugs on the job, possibly leading to potential accidents. But many business owners shy away from testing their employees for drug and alcohol use because doing so could incur a considerable cost for the company.

Both sides present valid points, so it is important for you as a manager to research thoroughly before making a decision. Following are some reasons to consider whether you should or shouldn’t implement pre-employment drug and alcohol testing:

You should because:
Safety – maintaining a drug and alcohol-free workforce ensures that the environment remains safe and healthy.  This could minimise the threat of drug-related incidents.  Without pre-employment drug testing, it is very difficult for an employer to identify workers who may pose a risk to everyone in the workplace due to drug and alcohol misuse.

Work issues that may arise – the use of drugs and alcohol on the job may affect the quality of employee’s work, increase their absenteeism or coming in late and result in lost productivity.  The cost of pre-employment drug and alcohol testing may save your business money later on as a result of not having to re-hire or compensate an injured employee.

Possible legal liabilities – Drug and alcohol use on the job poses a clear risk to employers.  Should an accident occur caused by a drug-using employee where other staff members are injured, the employer could face legal liability because they failed to maintain a safe working environment.  Pre-employment drug and alcohol testing demonstrates that an employer is making an effort to ensure a safe working environment for everyone.

Company image and reputation – Should a drug-related incident in your business be reported in the press, it could be extremely damaging to your company image and reputation, as it doesn’t paint a picture of a company that a future client would trust with their business.

Improved staff morale – when staff know that their safety is taken seriously by their employer, it tends to raise morale.  They feel valued and more motivated and committed.

Employees with drug and alcohol problems need help – pre-employment drug testing is beneficial to the employee as well as the employer.  It can assist them with getting the help they need.

Common reasons employers shy away from testing:
Cost – Some employers believe that pre-employment drug and alcohol testing can be expensive and affect the business’ bottom line.

In reality, it is actually a very good return on investment.  A standard drug and alcohol test starts at around $40.  This is extremely little in comparison to the cost of accidents and injuries or brand damage.

Privacy issues – some employees feel it violates their privacy and their rights to choose how they spend their own free time.  It may also lead them to feel that their employer doesn’t trust them.

Workplace drug and alcohol testing is not only beneficial for the business owner, but for the drug-using employees as well. A drug test is not meant to humiliate a potential employee but assist them in getting the proper help that they need.

Potential lawsuits – drug and alcohol testing need to be clearly known to potential employees, otherwise they may take legal action depending on the consequences.

A sound drug policy that is demonstrably known to your employees is key to avoiding major legal issues.

So, to test or not to test?  The pros clearly outweigh the cons.  A drug and alcohol-free work environment is critical to ensuring the health and safety of all your employees.

Find out how you can minimise the risk of drug and alcohol use in your workplace or contact Work Options on (02) 9957 1300

Alcohol and Drug Awareness in the workplace: a Supervisor’s guide

Drug and alcohol misuse represents a significant hazard to the health and safety of employees, contractors, visitors and others impacted by the activities performed by any organisation.

Are you a supervisor or manager with direct reports? If so, there’s a reasonable chance that one or more of your direct reports will come to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol at some stage. If you suspect that is the case, what should you do?

Identifying and confronting issues of substance abuse is an awkward and complicated task, particularly in the workplace. However, handled with professionalism and compassion, the outcome can be positive for both the employer and employee.

As the main point of contact for the worker, no one is better positioned to note significant behavioural changes that affect performance than the supervisor. Careful handling of the substance misuse process will help ensure the best outcome for both parties.

Here are some tips for avoiding pitfalls when handling suspected substance misuse in the workplace:

As a supervisor or manager, your key obligation is to maintain a safe, secure and productive environment.

Some of the obligations to ensure this include:

  • Implementing your organisation’s drug and alcohol management system as it has been issued
  • Not imposing unreasonable pressures on your employees that might result in an increased risk of drug and alcohol misuse
  • Regularly evaluating and discussing performance with your staff
  • Keeping an eye out for any signs of misuse
  • Ensuring you maintain individuals’ privacy at all times
  • Acting in a manner that doesn’t demean or belittle people – including labelling them

Remember that it is not your responsibility to:

  • Diagnose drug and alcohol problems
  • Provide counselling or therapy
  • Judge people

Be open, upfront and proactive about your expectations and maintain an open dialogue about drug and alcohol misuse.

Company policies and procedures vary by industry and company size, but regardless of how many employees you may have, the rules and repercussions should be clearly explained to all employees up front. Spread awareness of your company policy by including it in employee manuals and training sessions. Find out more.

Ensure you are fully aware of your company’s drug and alcohol policy and procedures and educate your employees.

An organisation’s drug and alcohol management policy is intended to:

  • Protect the health and safety of all employees, customers and the public
  • Maintain product and service quality and company integrity and reputation
  • Comply with relevant legislation

Share it with your employees from the day they join the organisation and start the conversation before there are any issues.

Report any suspected drug and alcohol misuse straight away and learn to recognise the possible symptoms of impairment.

Recognising and confronting the signs of drug and alcohol use can be difficult, as it is a sensitive subject and the issue must be dealt with consistently, fairly and whilst maintaining individuals’ privacy.

For more detailed information about recognising the signs of drug and alcohol misuse, contact Work Options

If you have the slightest concern or suspicion of drug or alcohol misuse, it is your legal obligation to question it immediately.

It is always better to act and be wrong than to not act and have an accident occur as a result. If your concerns are genuine, you will need to approach the person concerned.

Deal with any individual suspected of drug and alcohol use with empathy.

As a supervisor, you have a duty of care to your employees. When dealing with someone who may be affected, treat them fairly and reasonably and ensure you respect their privacy at all times.

Oral Fluid Testing: how it works and what it can achieve in the workplace

Last month we looked at urine testing in the workplace, the advantages of implementing it as a preferred method of testing and what it can achieve for employers. In Australia, another common method of testing is oral fluid, which is thought by many to be a convenient way to reduce the risk of workplace drug and alcohol use, and its impacts.

Once again, it’s important to reiterate that the purpose of workplace drug testing according to Australian law is not about ‘catching’ employees who use drugs, but to reduce its negative impacts in the workplace. And although drug testing may shed insight into a workers personal life, a controversial area for some employees, employers have a legal obligation to protect their workers and workplace from any safety concerns.

‘10% of workplace deaths involve drugs or alcohol’

Contact Work Options to determine which testing method is best for your business.

What is an oral fluid drug test and how does it work?
Oral fluid or saliva testing measures the presence of certain illegal drugs and prescription medications via a mouth swab, much like a roadside drug test. Oral fluid tests are considered popular among employers, in part because they can be completed on-site, are considered less invasive than urine testing, and are relatively easy to administer.

Cut off levels for each drug class, for both initial and confirmatory testing, are set by Australian legislation (ASNZS 4760). Samples that contain drugs above the cut off concentrations are deemed positive.

Drugs detected through oral fluid:
ASNZ S4760 stipulates that the following drugs can be detected through oral fluid testing but does not exclude testing of other drugs such as Benzodiazepines:

The length of time a drug may still be detected after use can vary depending on a multitude of factors including the strength of a drug, individual metabolism and frequency of use, therefore timeframes should be used as a guideline.

What should be considered when oral fluid testing:

  1. When it comes to discretion, oral fluid testing is generally considered less invasive than urine testing, as only a private room is required. This is typically the main reason why employee groups and unions prefer oral fluid testing over urine testing.
  2. Where a drug class has been detected through initial testing at site, further testing is required by a NATA accredited laboratory.
  3. Samples with concentrations of drug above the cut off level (considered a positive drug screen) do not correlate with impairment but rather recent use. It is then inferred that that there is a risk that an individual may be impaired, and thus must be managed appropriately to ensure safety.
  4. When testing for cannabis, in contrast to urine testing which detects the THC metabolite, oral fluid testing detects the THC active element (or parent drug). For this reason, oral fluid testing is generally linked more with recent use and is therefore considered a better reflection of impairment.
  5. If a certified collector, in accordance with ASNZS 4760, conducts testing correctly the risk of adulteration is minimised.
  6. Oral fluid testing may detect prescription medications as well as illegal drug use.

‘$680 million in days lost to Australian workplaces due to drug and alcohol use’

Regardless of using urine or oral fluid testing methods, drug and alcohol testing can play a key role in protecting businesses from issues with Fair Work Australia, IR, unfair dismissal claims and the physical and financial burden of accidents and injury. However, no matter which testing method is used, the key to successful implementation for any business is:

  • A robust Drug and Alcohol Management System which focuses on education, training and support to prevent misuse in the workplace
  • A system which is developed in consultation with the workforce and complies with industry specific and other relevant WHS legislation
  • Should be applied, reinforced and implemented consistently
  • Sets a clear guide, including policies and procedures, with regards to codes of behaviour
  • Testing should be conducted by certified collectors in strict accordance with relevant standards

To find out more about drug and alcohol testing, or to determine if your business is at risk of drugs and alcohol misuse, contact Work Options.

Related reading:
How employers can avoid 5 big mistakes when drug or alcohol testing
You suspect a worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, what’s next?
What to do when an employee fails a drug test
The biggest pitfalls in drug and alcohol testing policies

Urine testing: how it works and what it can achieve in the workplace

Drug testing in the workplace is a common practice, particularly within high-risk industries who are at a greater risk of accidents and injury occurring. It’s important to note however, the purpose of workplace drug testing according to Australian law is not about ‘catching’ employees who use drugs, but rather to reduce the negative impacts – physical, financial, emotional or otherwise – of drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

‘Drug and alcohol users lodge 5x more workers compensation claims than other employees’

In Australia both urine and oral fluid testing are acceptable means to test for drugs, however which one is right for an individual workplace depends on a range of factors, which includes industry specific legislation. Contact Work Options to determine which testing method is best for your business.

In this case we look at urine testing and what it can achieve in reducing the risk of workplace drug use and its impacts.

What is a urine drug test and how does it work?
A urine drug test analyses urine for the presence of certain illegal drugs and prescription medications, and is a common and accepted means of testing in Australian workplaces. Cut off levels for each drug class, for both initial and confirmatory testing, are set by Australian legislation (ASNZS 4308). Samples that contain drugs above the cut off concentrations are deemed positive.

Drugs detected through urine:
Urine testing screens for the following drug groups. But how long after a drug is used will it still be detected through a urine drug screen? This can vary depending on a multitude of factors including route of administration / strength of drug / individual metabolism. So there is no exact answer. However the following timeframes can be used as a guideline.

What should be considered when urine testing:

  • Whilst measures are taken to ensure privacy, typically urine testing is considered more invasive than oral fluid testing, due to the nature of collection. A bathroom or private room is required to make the collection, which can be viewed as an invasion of privacy by Fair Work Australia, and workers themselves, and may also be considered logistically difficult for some when conducted on work sites.
  • Where a drug class has been detected through initial testing at site, further testing is required by a NATA accredited laboratory.
  • Samples with concentrations of drug above the cut off level (positive drug screens) do not correlate with impairment. But certainly represents that there is a risk an individual may be impaired, and thus must be managed appropriately to ensure safety.
  • If a certified collector, in accordance with ASNZS 4308, conducts testing correctly the risk of adulteration is minimised.
  • Positive drug tests can provide insight into lifestyle choices of individual workers, which may have negative social affects.

‘62% of harmful drug and alcohol users are employed fulltime’

Regardless of using urine or oral fluid testing methods, drug and alcohol testing can play a key role in protecting businesses from issues with Fair Work Australia, IR, unfair dismissal claims and the physical and financial burden of accidents and injury. However, no matter which testing method is used, the key to successful implementation for any business is:

  • A robust Drug and Alcohol Management System which focuses on education, training and support to prevent misuse in the workplace
  • A system which is developed in consultation with the workforce and complies with industry specific and other relevant WHS legislation
  • Should be applied, reinforced and implemented consistently
  • Sets a clear guide, including policies and procedures, with regards to codes of behaviour
  • Testing should be conducted by certified collectors in strict accordance with relevant standards

To find out more about drug and alcohol testing, or to determine if your business is at risk of drugs and alcohol misuse, contact Work Options.

Related reading:
How employers can avoid 5 big mistakes when drug or alcohol testing
You suspect a worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, what’s next?
What to do when an employee fails a drug test
The biggest pitfalls in drug and alcohol testing policies

How Employers can Avoid 5 Big Mistakes when Drug and Alcohol Testing

We’ve previously covered the biggest pitfalls in workplace drug and alcohol testing policies, but even when your Drug and Alcohol Management Procedure is air tight, mistakes can still be made during the execution process, which can land employers in hot water. And no business should be exposed to those risks when they’ve already taken the time and effort to have a well-written and risk-reducing policy.

Not sure if your Drug and Alcohol Policy stacks up? Take our 5 minute survey to find out.

Here are our tips for avoiding some big mistakes when testing for drugs and alcohol:

Ensure your procedure covers drug testing when a worker is showing possible signs of drug and alcohol use
Your drug and alcohol management procedure should clearly outline the process for conducting testing when you have a suspicion that someone may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Doing so significantly increases your protection from accidents, incidents and substantial costs to your business.

Ensure random testing is ‘truly random’
Remember that the aim of testing is not to ‘catch out’ employees, but to provide a safe and risk-adverse work environment. Often much of the resistance to testing is when employees believe they are being targeted due to regular but ‘supposedly random’ testing. This could expose you to unfair or adverse action.  The only way to ensure that testing is truly random is to use a random generator, where employees have the same probability of being picked for testing. This also means that for repeated rounds of testing, if employees have already been picked for previous rounds, they have the same probability of being picked for the next round, just as everyone else does.

Make sure your testing schedule is not predictable
It’s pretty simple; if employees can predict when testing will occur, they can avoid detection. Ensure your testing schedule is not the same day or time, that frequency varies, the time between notification and testing is kept as short as possible, and that minimum people know in advance.

Wait for laboratory confirmation before implementing disciplinary action
An initial onsite drug screen result is not deemed positive until it is confirmed by a NATA accredited laboratory. A good drug and alcohol procedure should clearly document the process to be followed between the onsite test result and the confirmatory lab result. A worker should not be terminated during this time.

Keep appropriate documentation
Unfair dismissal claims and employee complaints are common when drug and alcohol testing is done poorly. Employers should maintain clear documentation across the entire testing process including employee selection, notification, comments or concerns. This ensures that the business is protected from claims, and proves that the process was completed fairly and in accordance with the Drug and Alcohol Management Procedure. Similarly, all employees must be informed of any changes to the procedure, trained and educated on the changes. Employers should have a documented and signed acceptance from each employee with regards to the change/s.

4 billion dollars – that’s how much it costs Australian businesses annually due to drug and alcohol induced accidents, illness absenteeism and productivity. Can your business afford to be part of that?

When you’ve already spent so much time writing, educating and executing your Drug and Alcohol Management Procedure, don’t make these small mistakes which all too often result in big consequences. For the best protection, contact Work Options for a thorough and tailored Drug and Alcohol Management Plan, designed to protect your business from the risks of drugs and alcohol.

Related reading:
You suspect a worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, what’s next?
The common problem with a positive drug and alcohol test which no one talks about
What to do when an employee fails a drug test
The biggest pitfalls in workplace drug and alcohol testing policies

The common problem with a positive drug and alcohol test which no one talks about

In light of October being Mental Health Awareness Month in New South Wales, we thought we’d shed some light on the often common reason as to why an employee may return a positive drug or alcohol result.

People use, and can become dependant on, drugs and alcohol for a number of reasons; enjoyment, to relax, inclusion within a group, curiosity, to minimise physical or psychological pain or as a coping or escape mechanism. And it’s important to note that 50% of people globally who are affected by substance abuse, also suffer from mental health disorders. But with the two being closely related, we are presented with a chicken and the egg type scenario; what came first?

Often when a person suffers with a mental health condition, they use substances to ease their symptoms temporarily. On the other hand, regular drug use can trigger the first symptoms of mental health illnesses, make symptoms worse or treatment less effective. Some people use substances because they believe that they will feel better in the short term, however it can actually leave them feeling worse, anxious, agitated, unmotivated or moody. And left untreated, both mental health issues and drug or alcohol addiction can get in the way of an individual’s ability to function at work, maintain relationships, handle difficult situations and sustain a functional and stable home life.

One in five Australian’s is currently experiencing a mental health condition equating to 20% of the country’s population.

So what should you do if a worker gets a positive result? As an Employer with a duty of care, the key is to ensure that you understand the driver behind the drug use, and explore it further to determine if something else may be a contributing factor. Did the worker have a big night out with their mate which is the reason for the positive result, or did they recently suffer a personal loss which they’re struggling to cope with?

It is not the role of the employer or manager to diagnose a possible substance or dependency problem, nor pass blame or immediately discipline… after all, you don’t know if a positive result has come from medication prescribed for a mental health condition, and disciplinary action may just make the situation worse for you and the worker. It is your role to identify if an employee is impaired, unable to do their job safely, and take the appropriate steps as per the organisation’s Drug and Alcohol Policy.

Among recent drinkers (2016) 1 in 6 (17.4%) put themselves or others at risk of harm while under the influence of alcohol in the last 12 months

So how should you support a worker with a positive result when you think there may be associated mental health issues?

  1. Employ a Drug and Alcohol Management Specialist to conduct an interview, provide guidance and make recommendations. Their expertise will ensure objectivity and legal compliance, as well as provide some reassurance to the worker. They will also be able to put together a tailored Drug and Alcohol Management Plan (DAMP) which will assess the worker’s physical, psychological and psycho-social state, and determine reasonable treatment and action moving forward.
  2. Provide opportunities for open communication and respond to their concerns compassionately. Ensure the worker feels heard, respect their privacy and confidentiality and take notes so that you can then take action.
  3. Determine what temporary changes can be made to the worker’s role or workplace to accommodate their physical and psychological needs. Do they need some time off, can they work from home, how can their workload be reduced?
  4. Provide support by offering contact details for community support groups, Employee Assistance Programs, GP or health care professional, online resources or other mental health or drug and alcohol support networks.
  5. Share your story if you’ve gone through something similar and you’re confident in sharing your experience. Be careful not to compare or say things like ‘I know what you’re going through’; simply show them that they are not alone on their journey.
  6. Let them know that they have your support in their recovery. The best treatment for co-occurring disorders is to treat them simultaneously which may mean the employee has a long road ahead of them. Let them know you’ll support them in any way you can from a work perspective. Remember – your role is to support the person be successful at work, not anywhere else.

Among recent drinkers (2016) 1 in 10 (9%) had injured themselves or someone else because of their drinking in their lifetime

When all is said and done, when mental health is concerned, the best approach is to be preventative rather than reactive. By recognising the symptoms of poor mental health and taking action, you will contribute to a positive health culture, and may prevent bigger issues such as drug and alcohol misuse at work from occurring. And if it does, if you understand the reason behind the substance abuse, you can choose the best way to respond. 

Be a proactive Employer by utilising a Drug and Alcohol Management Specialist who can assist you in identifying the risks. When addressing issues with educational understanding, the worker will be protected from further risk of deterioration, you’ll protect the business from potential unfair treatment claims, and you will retain a good employee with experience in their role.

Related reading:

You suspect a worker is under the influence, what’s next

What to do when an employee fails a drug test

The Latest Drug Trends from NDARC

Drug and alcohol use at work is becoming more prevalent than ever, with a staggering number of related workplace accidents and injury being recorded in Australia.

Not only do drugs and alcohol increase risk, but can contribute significantly to absenteeism, productivity and incidents, and potentially cost thousands of dollars in claims for the employer.

The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre have released the latest drug trends from their 2018 findings. View them here: Illicit Drugs Reporting and Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting.

Top 5 Mistakes Employers make with Drug & Alcohol Testing in the workplace

Navigating safe workplaces

“For a workplace drug & alcohol testing program to be successful it must be clear, detailed, fair, enforceable, consistent in its application and focus on education and support.”

Many employers develop a drug and alcohol testing program with the right intentions – they want to keep people:

  • safe at work,
  • prevent dangerous and costly workplace accidents
  • maintain a good brand reputation in their market.

However, despite their good intentions, most will fail dismally!


We asked our team of workplace drug testing experts what they see as the top 5 common mistakes in drug & alcohol policies and procedures.

Here’s what they said:

  • The half-baked approach
  • Unclear procedures
  • The “catch & sack” approach
  • Inconsistency in the application of the procedure
  • Lack of training

For  more information see Work Options  “LightHouse Keeper – Navigating Safe Workplaces” Article

Consequences of an unclear Drug & Alcohol policy

What Can Happen if your Drug & Alcohol Testing Policy is Unclear & too General – A Case Study

 

Imagine this…

its the evening of Melbourne Cup day, night shift has commenced and an employee reports to you that another employee has passed out asleep in a truck at work, and she smells of alcohol.

To make matters worse you discover that as a result of this, approximately 50 chickens have died. Your drug and alcohol policy says you have a ‘zero tolerance for alcohol’.

 

What would you do…?

 

For  more information see Work Options  “LightHouse Keeper – Navigating Safe Workplaces” Article

Drug & Alcohol Policy -Sept 2018