Drugs and alcohol are a known workplace hazard.

By TCCI CEO Michael Bailey 

In Tasmania, many of us know of friends or family members who have a daily struggle with alcohol and drug issues.

Sadly, more Australians are becoming addicted and in the workplace, this can present serious problems.

I am not saying that it’s all the workers’ fault … or different workplace’s indifference or ignoring of a problem that exists under their collective noses every single day.

There are many workplaces in Tasmania that are alcohol and drug “free”, where staff submit to daily testing as part of their employment contracts – mines and large industrial sites as perhaps the best examples.

The reality is, when staff are affected by alcohol or drugs, their behaviour and state of mind and body can contribute massively to workplace accidents and mental health claims.

My question is this: inspectors are able to go onto worksites to ensure safety and compliance is carried out, why can’t they do random drug or alcohol tests?

It’s still part of ensuring a safe workplace.

Transport inspectors and police can do it … they alcohol/drug test every day. And it’s done so that our roads and the drivers, cyclists and pedestrians on them are safe. So I can’t understand why workplace inspectors don’t.

Sadly, I know of workplaces which don’t want to implement a fit for work, drug and alcohol policy, as they know some their workers will not comply.

Or some workplaces refuse to test workers because they know some will fail and are concerned about losing some of their workforce.

Some of the other excuses I have heard or had reported to me include:

  • Businesses say they will lose up to half their workforce if a “fit for work policy” was adhered to;
  • Businesses will not test post-accident due to the high possibility of a worker being under the influence;
  • Business only test workers they know will pass, so not to have to dismiss workers in fear of not having enough to operate.

Obviously, insurance claims can be refused if drugs or alcohol are involved in a work place accident, including workers compensation and plant and equipment replacement/repair insurance.

Just like “Dr Google”, you can use the internet for a range of suggestions on how to pass drug tests at work.

And we have all heard of workers who take someone else’s urine to work to pass a drug test … never mind the allegations against professional athletes!

A South Australian study recently revealed that 24.2% of emergency department presentations are caused by an accident or incident at industrial sites testing positive to alcohol or drugs.

The study was conducted over a 12 month period (these findings do not distinguish between medically prescribed drugs or illicit drug use).

And recent research has established that 25 million work days are lost annually due to drinking or drug use at a cost of more than $680 million.

It’s estimated that alcohol and drug use cost Australian workplaces $6 billion dollars a year in lost productivity.

It impacts colleagues too – 1 in 10 workers say they have been affected by a co-workers’ misuse of drugs or alcohol –

➢ reduced ability to carry out tasks on their own without assistance,

➢ involvement in an accident,

➢ having to work extra hours due to someone not coming to work or being sent home.

The Workplace Health & Safety Act imposes a duty on all workers not to recklessly endanger themselves or others in the workplace.

Australia and Tasmania … we have a problem. Let’s fix it. For the health of our workers and their families … and the health of our workplaces.

One workplace death is too many … but business and workers need to cooperate to overcome this insidious and semi-hidden plague.