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Drugs in the workplace an issue for industry

Supplier News

DRUG and alcohol use in the workplace is a hidden problem for many manufacturing companies says an Australian supplier of workplace drug and alcohol tests.

According to Andrew Leibie, a scientist and national account manager for d:tec Australia , it’s often not until drug testing has been introduced by manufacturers that the extent of drug use by workers is revealed.

“The results often come as a surprise to senior managers. One manufacturer we work with had an employee take issue with the introduction of random testing in his workplace,” he said.

“He claimed that he smoked cannabis while at work ‘at least 10 times a day’, and it also came to light that there were several other employees in the company with similar habits – all of whom operated machinery while under the influence of the drug.”

Leibie said this had serious implications for manufacturers. “Workers who use drugs have a higher incidence of workplace injuries, absenteeism and workplace aggression than non-drug users,” he said.

“This is particularly alarming as a lost time injury can cost a business hundreds of thousands of dollars. But more than that, it’s concerning for manufacturers that place emphasis on occupational health and safety and who are striving to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.”

In line with this, Leibie said the best way for manufacturers to implement drug and alcohol testing was as part of their wider OH&S strategy.

“The most effective drug and alcohol testing programs are part of broader OH&S goals and are not implemented solely for cost benefits or as a ‘moral’ issue, but primarily to assist and improve the health and safety of employees,” he said.

Leibie listed the following considerations for manufacturers introducing a drug testing policy:

Set clear objectives for testing and communicate these to employees. Clearly state the purpose of the drug testing program. Extensive staff education should be undertaken to ensure everyone understands why testing is taking place and how it will be carried out.

State clearly which drugs will be tested for and at what levels. Be familiar with the Australian Standard 4308, which details the types of drugs that should be tested and the cut-off levels for these drugs in urine.

Decide who is responsible for repercussions of a positive test. Action to be taken following a positive test result must be clearly stated in the company policy. This may cover disciplinary procedures, Employee Assistance Programs, counselling and action to take on subsequent breaches of policy. Employees also need to clearly understand what their responsibilities are in relation to drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

Leibie stressed that drug and alcohol screening programs were not about “catching out” workers, but rather creating safer and more productive workplaces.

He said many employees simply needed to be educated about what was appropriate.

“In many cases, employees are simply unaware of the effect certain drugs, prescription or otherwise, may be having on their work performance,” he said.

Leibie, said that increasingly, manufacturing companies were incorporating pre-employment drug testing as part of their standard recruitment process.

He says a supportive management culture can be a huge contributing factor to the success of a drug testing program. “Essentially, screening programs are about helping workers help themselves.”

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