The building industry in Australia has an extremely high incidence of drug and alcohol usage amongst its workers and is often cited as one of the most unsafe industries in the country. Perhaps, at the heart of this problem is the grassroots notion of Australian mateship, where lunchtime and after hours unwinding in pubs – male camaraderie and blokes’ bonding Aussie style – has stood as the cultural and outside hours/workplace norm. But where once such practices were viewed as culturally and socially acceptable, in today’s changing workplace and community climate they may stand at odds with workplace safety, OHS and the duty of care role of the employer.
Even The Building Trades Group recognizes the problem, and has answered it with the development of The Building Trades Group Drug and Alcohol Program. With a view to teaching workers to self-monitor as well as educating them on available treatments, the program focuses on
- Raising awareness of safety and health issues related to the use of alcohol and other drugs.
- Increasing workers’ commitment to alcohol and drug safety, by seeking to have the policy endorsed on all sites.
- Training Safety Committee members, delegates and workers on how to implement the Program and intervene when a worker is unsafe or has problems.
But does this approach go far enough? Master Builders Association chief Brian Welch argues it doesn’t. “We are concerned about the presence of drugs on Victorian building sites. Employers should have the freedom without interference from the unions to do random testing.”
In April 2011, Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu stated consideration would be given to random testing in the building industry in Victoria. While he was clear to snuff out any pitting of supporters/opponents battling over the issue – maintaining it did not have to be approached as an “adversarial issue,” he and his colleagues were open to the Building Industry’s wish to develop a mandatory drug testing policy for builders tendering for government building jobs.
The Master Builders Association in Victoria is keen for the development of a random testing approach similar to those that have been legislated for the Aviation and Mining and Transport Industries. And while privacy and natural justice issues are cited as the objection to such a policy by opponents, employers argue in favour, because of their increasing demands in terms of Occupational Health and Safety and Risk Management approaches, which require an optimal level employer duty of care.
Worksafe Victoria cites testing as a feasible approach, “where workplace parties are in agreement that making testing available may be appropriate in certain circumstances. (For example, a risk assessment has identified high risks involved in undertaking certain activities whilst under the influence of alcohol.)
If you are developing or considering a workplace drug and alcohol policy and procedure for your industry or business, be sure to contact CMM Technology for product advice and expert consultancy services. Phone CMM Technology on 08-9204-2500
 The Building Trades Group Drug and Alcohol Program. http://btgda.org.au/?page_id=157
 WORKSAFE VICTORIA / guidelines for developing a workplace alcohol policy. Worksafe Victoria. State Government of Victoria, 2005. Pp 9.