Developing a Holistic and Specific Alcohol and Drug Program

There are six states, one federal government and 2 territories comprising Australia and each one has a set of laws concerning drug and alcohol testing.  In general, the laws require the duty holder, the employer, to “…provide and maintain, as far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.”1 The laws generally depend on defining general duty requirements and performance standards in which goals are set, and it’s up to the employer to develop the policies and procedures that enable the business to meet those goals.

As far as workplace drug testing and alcohol testing is concerned, the actual specification standards are established by Standards Australia, and onsite testing equipment like the Oraline Saliva test are designed to measure in a way that results can be compared to standards. Yet it’s a long way from developing specific drug and alcohol policy and procedures to actual drug testing.

Each organisation is unique and that means the drug and alcohol testing program should be unique. What constitutes risks to health and safety in one organisation is different from what constitutes risks in a different one. Organisations are structured and managed differently too. Some employers have one location and can establish a single set of procedures.  A mining or aviation company, on the other hand, will have employees in many locations working in unique settings.

The impairment risks can also vary significantly within an organisation. The trade unions which have had a major influence in the setting of national and state policies, point out that impairment risks can contribute to alcohol and drug use and so employers need to establish a comprehensive health and safety policy. It is their belief that focusing primarily on drugs and alcohol has resulted in employer inattention to issues like fatigue, stress, noise and so on.2

When Mediscreen at http://mediscreen.net.au/index.php?mod=about works with an employer to create an alcohol and drug testing program, the focus is on the whole workplace and not just individual issues. The alcohol and drug policy and procedures need to comfortably fit within an overall program designed to develop and maintain a safe working environment. This is the specificity needed to match the program to the employer’s unique qualities and employee needs.

In other words, the specific program needs to address much more than testing.3

  • Management needs to identify and consult with the appropriate groups for its business which may include the company workforce and employee representatives and other stakeholders
  • There should be a definitive policy on drug and alcohol consumption or tolerances (which may be zero) in the workplace
  • Identification of the specific testing program that will be utilised is necessary
  • Clear implementation and evaluation processes must be identified
  • Policy on program communication to employees must be established

The specific alcohol and drug policy and procedures should not be developed, implemented or monitored in a vacuum. They should be part of a holistic approach that is designed to promote overall workplace health and safety. That fits in with the union and national harm minimisation approaches in that the alcohol and drug program should not be punitive and reactive. It should be supportive and proactive and include some form of rehabilitation or employee assistance like giving an employee time to attend a drug rehab program while keeping the position available for return after successful completion.

References

1National Research Centre for OHS Regulation. (2011). About Occupational Health and Safety Regulation in Australia. Retrieved March 20, 2011, from National Research Centre for OHS Regulation: http://ohs.anu.edu.au/ohs/index.php

2Australian Drug Foundation – Victoria Department of Human Services. (2009, September). Prevention Research Quarterly – Prevention of Alcohol-Related Harm in the Workplace. Retrieved March 18, 2011, from Drug Info Clearinghouse: www.druginfo.adf.org.au

3Australian Safety and Compensation Council. (2007, March). Work-Related Alcohol and Drug Use – A Fit for Work Issue. Retrieved March 5, 2011, from SafeWork Australia: http://safeworkaustralia.gov.au/AboutSafeWorkAustralia/WhatWeDo/Publications/Documents/334/WorkRelatedAlcoholAndDrugUse_AFitForWorkIssue_2007_PDF.pdf

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