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Drug and alcohol frequently asked questions

Drug and Alcohol FAQs:

What can you do as a business to minimise the negative risks that drugs and alcohol represent to you as a business and to individuals?

Firstly, it comes back to recruiting the “right” people. Having pre-employment drug and alcohol screens conducted is a simple and inexpensive way of identifying persons who may have drug or alcohol issues before you employ them. Helping you make sure you bring the right people into your workforce.

Second, is to have a system in place to address the issues of drugs and alcohol in the workplace and that has as its focus a purpose to minimise the risk of drugs and alcohol in the workplace. One small issue… it is difficult and complex. There are many legal and social aspects involved. The technical issues relating to drugs and alcohol are not only confusing but also appear to change very quickly. Many businesses elect to build a system in house, but the unfortunate reality is that many of these businesses do not realise that their system is flawed until it is tested in the courts. It is then that the real costs of such mistakes are really brought home.

What are some common mistakes businesses make in drug and alcohol management systems?

As a provider of drug and alcohol services we are often approached by businesses to provide advice on their drug and alcohol management systems, often only after an issue has been identified. Some of the common mistakes we see in businesses systems;

  • An umbrella policy statement has been developed but there is no detailed management system
  • The system does not apply to ALL
  • Thinks only about illegal drugs and fails to deal with prescribed and over the counter medications
  • Legal WHS consultation requirements not met in establishing the system
  • Terms such as “under the influence” or “impaired” used instead of establishing a clear standard of behaviour for the workforce
  • Does not have provisions for education and awareness training for the workforce or for the supervisors of the business who are the eyes and ears of the business
  • Does not have provisions for support for workers or management plans for individuals who have positive drug or alcohol readings. Management Plans can be relied on legally for termination if a person does not comply. Not having these provisions can lead to drawn out industrial relations problems that can lead to worker’s compensation claims.

Is there a business benefit to addressing the issues of drugs and alcohol?

If done correctly, the answer is absolutely. As a business you could potentially be absorbing substantial costs caused by the impact of drugs and alcohol. They are costs associated with absenteeism; productivity; workers compensation; worker health; security and employee morale.

The business benefit of addressing the issues of drugs and alcohol in the workplace (correctly) are clear;

  • Safer workplace = fewer WHS incidents and injuries = fewer WC claims = less downtime, less admin, less heartache, more productivity and less costs!
  • Reduced absenteeism = increased employee morale; increased employee health; more productivity and less costs!
  • Employer of choice = easier to attract and recruit the right people; keep the good ones you have = reduced recruiting costs = less costs!
  • Improved business image = competitive edge = winning more work and more profit!

Are there any hidden costs in a drug & alcohol test?

There should not be any hidden costs and your testing agency should be able to clearly outline what and how they charge. Drug testing agencies do vary in how they charge and it can sometimes be hard to compare apples to apples. The key is to understand exactly what your fees include and what/when additional costs may be incurred. Typical fees include: the drug and alcohol screen itself (sometimes this is a combined fee), labour time of the tester/s, and travel or attendance fees. Additional costs may also include: additional tests performed for a candidate on the day, confirmatory testing and paperwork, laboratory fees, couriers fees and penalty or out of hours fees, consulting/advice fees.

Be careful about choosing an agency on what may appear to be a lower screening fee as they are likely making up for this lower cost elsewhere. For instance, they may charge a higher labour rate, or require a minimum number of tests to be conducted, or require a minimum spend. So, make sure you understand what other fees may be charged and under what circumstances – and get it in writing.

We also recommend you perform some modelling of what costs would be incurred under various scenarios, for example: during business hours vs out of business hours. Then you are in a much better position to understand the real cost and compare apples to apples.

Can the drug and alcohol screening be taken onsite and offsite? Or where can’t the test be taken?

Yes it can be either onsite or offsite. The key is to ensure there is an appropriate (safe, private and controlled) area to conduct the screen. Ideally the screen will be conducted in comfortable room temperature . Extreme cold or heat can affect the integrity of the screen and should be avoided.

Testing is sometimes conducted on roadsides or complex/dangerous worksites (e.g. construction site). Ideally a site office would be used or a safe area, away from danger of injury or accidents.

When is the best time to take a drug and alcohol test?

There is no ideal time – it is good to conduct testing over a range of times or days to ensure you capture all workers/shifts and prevent workers from avoiding known drug testing times.

It is important to remember that drug testing should not be done to ‘catch’ people, but rather minimise risks in your business. Your drug testing agency should be able to work with you to determine where your risks lie and develop an appropriate testing schedule to address this.

How long does the drug and alcohol screening take? When do I receive the results?

Most drug screens take around 7-10 minutes and an alcohol screen around 2-3 minutes. This covers time to complete the paperwork (paper or digital), complete the screen and wait for the results. If the screen is conducted via an onsite collection device, then the results are instant – well within a few minutes of the screen.

Confirmatory testing undertaken by a laboratory can take between 24-72 hours typically.

What drugs are recognised in the test?

This will vary on the drug screening device. It is usually between 5-7 drug classes and can include: Cocaine, Amphetamines, Methamphetamines; Opioids, Heroin, Benzodiazepines, and THC (Marijuana). Alcohol is detected using a Breathalyser device.

Will the test tell the difference between prescription medicine and illicit drugs?

Drug screens detect classes of drugs, including: Cocaine, Amphetamines, Methamphetamines; Opioids, Heroin, Benzodiazepines, and THC (Marijuana).

In some cases a non-negative result may occur, however, the actual drug consumed cannot be confirmed at the time. For example, Opioids may be detected, but the specific Opioid may not be known. This is where confirmatory testing conducted by an accredited laboratory is required.

The labs have sophisticated testing and diagnostic capabilities that can determine drug types and levels to a significantly higher level and accuracy than onsite instant drug screening devices.

It is important that donors are given the opportunity to declare any medications prior to a drug screen.

Is there privacy of the results for the employer and employee?

Yes! Privacy is critical and the drug testing agency and employer should have agreed procedures in place to appropriately manage privacy.

Donor personal information, who is being tested, test results and follow up actions should only be made available to those with a genuine need to know. This also includes chain of custody procedures for samples being sent to laboratories for confirmatory testing.

A donor must give (sign) their consent to participate in a drug and alcohol screen and sign-off on any confirmatory samples.

How often should our workers be tested for drugs and alcohol?

That will depend on a number of things, including the type of work performed (low vs high risk), any contractual or legislative requirements, your budget and, to a lessor degree, ease of access/logistics.

Some industries have minimum requirements, such as the Building and Construction Commission or aviation; others will provide guidelines only. There is also the duty of care under Work Health & Safety legislation to identify and appropriately manage risks in the workplace.

Further, many large companies or government agencies may require you to drug test your workers. As a guide, unless specifically specified, you should conduct a risk assessment in conjunction with your testing agency to determine the frequency and volume of testing each year.

Please contact us if there are any further questions on protecting your business from drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

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