Workplace drug testing: What you need to know

by Janie Smith24 Jun 2014

Construction workers on state government building sites in Victoria will have to undergo random drug tests from next month in an effort to stamp out drug use in the workforce.

New guidelines were released by Industrial Relations Minister Robert Clark that require companies tendering for taxpayer-funded building projects worth more than $10 million to do a minimum number of drug and alcohol tests on employees, according to The Age.

Companies will also have to set up security measures on sites, such as swipe-card access and CCTV cameras.

The rules were designed to increase safety and help prevent organised crime from infiltrating the unionised workforce, according to the state government.

With workplace drug testing becoming increasingly common, it’s important to know your obligations as an employer.

Phillip Collins, head of workplace services at the Australian Drug Foundation, gave HC the rundown.

Know which test you need to use

Employers can either use an oral drug test, which is a saliva test, or a urine test. Collins said that the urine test will detect particular drugs for longer periods that are in a person’s system, so it’s detecting for recreational use, as opposed to being fit for work.

“The oral test is a fit for work style drug test. It will actually pick up key ingredients. It will be the best one to show whether or not you are under the influence of drugs. Employers need to understand what they’re actually testing for – are they testing for what someone did on the weekend, or are they testing whether that person is fit for work today?”

There are Australian standards for both the urine and saliva tests, but Collins said there were issues around the standards of the devices used to take the saliva tests.

“The devices are made according to the manufacturer’s specifications and not to an Australian standards specification. That means you can get a device from anywhere around the world, but not be 100% confident that it’s working as effectively as it should be.”

Know the rules around testing

The saliva test is becoming more commonly used because it’s cheaper, but if it detects a non-negative result, it is just an indicator, Collins said.

“It has to go back to a laboratory. If they start out with a saliva test, they can’t then make somebody do a urine test. They must maintain the same process. If you start off with the oral test, you have to maintain that right through to the laboratory.”

Employers conducting the tests must ensure that they follow the correct chain of custody, which includes the protocol of taking the test through to how it is sent to the laboratory, what forms are filled out and who is signing off on it to make sure the tests are not adulterated or jeopardised.

Have a robust drug and alcohol policy

“Evidence shows that if you are to put anything in place, what you need to do is ensure you have your policy very much up to date,” said Collins.

“A policy is not simply a zero tolerance, ‘you must not do’, the policy must cover off areas around educating the employee and the employer on their responsibilities, the process of being tested, the regularity of the testing, what and how it’s being tested, but also the behaviour expectations within the organisation. Then if you are caught, what are the next steps? Are you instantly dismissed or is it a three step process?”

He said that drug testing was not a “silver bullet” and employers needed to look at policy, education and communication as opposed to testing in isolation. The policy also needed to be reiterated regularly, particularly at times of the year like Christmas when employees were more likely to be at parties and celebrations.

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