In perusing news articles on drugs, drug testing in Australia, and workplace drug testing, it does not take long to find serious allegations of employee drug use. Though all drug and alcohol use in the workplace is disturbing and jeopardises worker safety, there are some situations that are more disturbing than others. For example, over 100 airline employees working in Australia tested positive for alcohol or drugs during a seventeen month period. This level of substance abuse is even more disturbing when it is revealed that two of the people failing the tests are those who have a direct impact on the safety of passengers and crew in the air – pilots and flight crew.1
The statistics associated with this case were released by CASA, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. CASA has had the legal right to randomly test employees for drug or alcohol use since 2008, and this case proves again why a testing program is so important. Opponents to workplace drug testing might try to argue that finding only two in-air positions testing positive amongst the thousands of tests does not justify a comprehensive program, but it is a disingenuous argument at best. One pilot under the influence of a substance jeopardises all of the lives on the aircraft and the lives of the people on the ground working near the aircraft. It also threatens the lives of people in other aircraft who are counting on the pilot’s ability to do his or her job accurately and safely. In other words, one pilot under the influence of of drugs or alcohol threatens the safety of hundreds of people.
The very fact that certain positions are included in the testing program is a clear indication that CASA and the airlines consider all the positions associated with aircraft in any way as safety-sensitive. They include air traffic control staff, air and cabin crew, ground workers, baggage workers, maintenance personnel, refuellers, aircraft engineers, and security screening personnel.
Increasing at an Increasing Rate
The statistics are alarming. Three months after a Qantas pilot was removed from a flight on suspicion he had been drinking, the CASA report was issued revealing the extent of the problem. The tests were conducted between September 2010 and February 2012 and were administered for one of three reasons: 1) pre-employment testing, 2) reasonable suspicion or for-cause, or 3) employee was returning from a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. There were 27,549 alcohol tests and 24 positive results and 19,402 drug tests and 80 positive results.
To put the growing problem in perspective, consider the fact that random drug and alcohol tests conducted by the airlines between 2008 and March 2012 produced 27 positive results out of 51,645 tests, as opposed to 104 positives out of 46,951 recent CASA tests. The airline results covered approximately 4 years, whilst the CASA results were for a 17 month period. Clearly, drug and alcohol use in the workplace is growing rapidly.
Most of the positive results were associated with cabin, ground staff, and baggage handlers. Besides the CASA random testing program, a second tier internal testing program for safety sensitive aviation activity personnel is also conducted. That testing recorded another 45 positive alcohol or drug tests out of 51,000 tests administered.2
Lessons to Learn
The airline industry and government efforts to detect worker drug and alcohol use hold lessons for all industries. First, the airlines random testing program is supported by an education program, and that surely contributes to the low rate of substance abuse. Second, the two-tier approach supports the strong joint commitment to airline safety by the employers and the government. Third, drug and alcohol testing programs are an integral component of a workplace safety program. Fourth, drug and alcohol testing programs work.
The truth is that no employer wants a single worker under the influence of substances during working hours because every place of employment needs to be safe and productive.
CMM Technology (http://cmm.com.au/) facilitates drug and alcohol testing programs by supplying state-of-the-art equipment and kits. Accurate testing is critical so that employers and staff have confidence the testing program is valid and reliable.
1 Zappone, Chris. (2012, October 30). More airline staff fail drug, alcohol tests. Retrieved from The Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/business/more-airline-staff-fail-drug-alcohol-tests-20121030-28gi3.html
2 Dunn, Mark. (2012, October 30). More than 100 airline employees have tested positive to drugs or alcohol over 17 months. Retrieved from News.com.au (from Heraldsun.com.au): http://www.news.com.au/top-stories/more-than-100-airline-employees-have-tested-positive-to-drugs-or-alcohol-over-17-months/story-e6frfkp9-1226505683021