Mining contractor HWE cleared to continue urine drug screening

Breathalyser, Drug test KitsEmployee drug testing is mandatory at mining sites but debate continues over oral and urine drug tests. Legal parameters are being defined as employers and unions seek arbitration over screening tests. A recent ruling has backed a mining contractor over its use of urine tests.

A recent decision by Fair Work Australia has found mining contractor HWE is entitled to take urine samples for drug and alcohol testing despite union opposition.

The ruling was handed down on November 30, 2011, after protests by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union that HWE should use saliva drug tests for its onsite drug testing.

Unions have traditionally favoured oral tests, claiming the method is less intrusive and better protects workers’ privacy. In the case before Fair Work the CFMEU argued that the psychoactive compound in cannabis – THC – showed up on urine drug tests even days after use, when it was not likely to cause impairment. It argued that HWE had agreed to use saliva drug tests upon an Australian Standard being reached.

Fair Work found that while this standard (AS4760) had been put in place (since 2006) there was still “compelling rational reasons for regarding saliva testing as less effective than urine testing”.

“In a practical sense the dispute is ultimately about an intrusion into employees’ privacy and whether employees who consume cannabis privately while on an extended break from work should be exposed to a risk of a positive urine screening test when there is no prospect that they remain impaired when they return to work,” Fair Work said in its ruling.

It found HWE was “eminently reasonable” in its decision not to change to oral drug testing.

“Impairment by drugs or alcohol is an important safety issue at coal mines,” Fair Work said.

“The nature of the mining process and the plant and equipment used in mining is such that employees who are impaired by drugs or alcohol present a substantial safety risk to themselves and others that must be controlled.

“There are very onerous statutory occupational health and safety obligations imposed on employers in New South Wales… The use of on-site screening rather than laboratory screening is well justified by HWE’s concern that the delay between the taking of a sample and obtaining the results of a laboratory test may lead to employees who are actually impaired working on dangerous equipment when that would not occur if an effective on-site screening test had been used.”

Leading Australian alcohol and drug testing equipment suppliers CMM Technology said rulings such as the Fair Work decision demonstrated the challenges facing employers, particularly in high-risk sectors such as mining.

Director Murray Simon said the choice between oral and urine drug tests was difficult as both had advantages and limitations.

He said the cost of drug and alcohol testing as well as company requirements and policies were considerations. “Every workplace will have different needs but safety always has to be the priority,” he said.

For more information on workplace drug test equipment contact CMM (Clinical Medical Marketing) on 1300 797030 or email


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