When you say ‘workforce’, do you think of teenagers? You probably do not if you equate a workforce with a group of people out of school and pursuing a career. If this describes your initial impression of Australian workers then it’s time to look at the statistics. It’s not only workers 20 years and older that need drug and alcohol testing because they belong to a workforce. Aussies are celebrated (notorious) for their capacity to drink, and unfortunately this pride in drinking extends to those under 17 years old. There is a sizable workforce comprised of people who are still teenagers, and they are alcohol and drug abusers.
Drinking and illicit drug use on the job is never acceptable, but when it involves youth it also involves emotions (think hormones). People who work and counsel teens track the behaviours of teens pre- and post party, and it seems there is a lot of anger that is substance induced. A survey of teens asked about a night of partying reported they are feeling “soooo pissed last night” (excuse the language) the day after a party involving drinking.1 They didn’t brag about having fun b but rather talked about their anger. Though the comments on the websites about teen drinking made by those worried about this issue are regarded as subjective at times, the official government statistics support them in every regard.
For example, the Australian National Council of Drugs reports that as of February 2008 the statistics indicate that 16 percent of young drinkers go to work or school whilst under the influence of alcohol and 13 percent of these teens also drink-drive. The report also found that those who drank at a young age increased their alcohol use with age. By the age of 17, excess drinking was reported by 22 percent of males and 17 percent of females. Males consumed 7 drinks at a time whilst females drank 5 alcoholic drinks. Here are some more disturbing statistics: 2
- 1 out of every 10 15-year olds binge drink
- 1 out of every 5 16-year olds binge drink
- 1 out of every 5 17-year olds binge drink
The question of testing children in the workplace is a little more complex than testing of adults. Adults are more emotionally and intellectually equipped to make the decision as to whether they are willing to undergo drug testing. Protecting the privacy and safety of children is crucial, and that would seem to be a complication (though it’s not).
Fortunately there are non- invasive alcohol and drug testing methods like the Lion SD 400 or SD 500 and Oraline Saliva. A person only has to blow into the Lion SD 400 for alcohol testing and/or submit saliva directly into the Oraline Saliva device. An employer does not have to touch the teenager (or adults) and can get highly accurate results. Both tests can be administered on-site and give results instantly.
Binge drinking is not confined to youth, of course, and we tend to think of workplace alcohol and drug testing as being mostly applicable to adults unless talking about student athletes who regularly undergo urine testing. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare conducted a study and reported that 9 percent of workers binge drink weekly. Also, 7 percent of the workforce reported to their jobs whilst still under the influence of alcohol. The report also linked alcohol use and adverse workplace events including attending work whilst still under the influence of alcohol and absenteeism.3
Since alcohol is a legal substance, it can be tempting to think of it as somewhat harmless when compared to drugs like heroin and ecstasy. Yet alcohol kills far more Australians annually than illicit drugs. Each year there is an estimated 3,200 Australians who die from alcohol consumption and 81,000 people are hospitalised, and all of these people cost the community $15.3 billion.4 In 2001 there were 1,038 deaths due to drug overdoses.5
No matter the average age of your workforce, alcohol and drug testing policies and procedures should be implemented to protect workplace safety. CMM Technology (http://cmm.com.au/index.php ) provides expert consulting services to employers who need to identify the appropriate alcohol and drug testing equipment for all ages of workers.
1. Sally Frye, S. D. (2008, February). Supporting the Families of Young People With Problematic Drug Use. Retrieved June 2011, from Australian National Council on Drugs: http://www.ancd.org.au/publications-and-reports/research-papers.html
3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2006, June 28). Binge Drinking Affects Workers and Workplace Safety. Retrieved June 19, 2011, from Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: http://www.aihw.gov.au/media-release-detail/?id=6442464636
4. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. (2009, April 24). National Alcohol Strategy 2006-2011. Retrieved June 19, 2011, from Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/alcohol/publishing.nsf/Content/nas-06-09
5. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2003, July 15). Drug Induced Deaths, Australia, 1991- 2001. Retrieved June 19, 2011, from Australian Bureau of Statistics: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/productsbytopic/E32F06E91C80389DCA256D640001E0FF?OpenDocument