Waikato pair combat drug abuse in workers

ALI TOCKER
Last updated 08:13 22/01/2013
Kyly Coombes
Ali Tocker/FAIRFAX NZ
DOWN TO EARTH: Waikato woman Kyly Coombes co-owns a company aiming to help keep drugs out of agriculture and the professional trades.

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Zero tolerance to drugs on farms - that's the advice of a Waikato corporate dairy farmer with more than 15 years experience managing large-scale operations.

Kyly Coombes has a drug-testing policy on the six farming businesses she co-manages with her husband.

The policy has worked so well she wants to share her experience and expertise with other farmers.

"Drug and alcohol abuse and how to handle it can really fox some farmers, who would rather get on with the business of farming than spend a lot of time on policies, procedures and paperwork," Coombes said.

To help other farmers and employers, she has started a business called AgResultz with another Waikato woman, Louise Manders, to help employers prevent and respond to drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace.

The two are passionate about farming, but are offering their services to all trades.

"Farm workers under the influence of drugs or alcohol can cause enormous damage to a farming business," Coombes said.

"Property, business and lives can be damaged by reckless acts or impaired decision-making."

Problems can include dead or mistreated animals, vehicle accidents and injuries.

Farm owners turning a blind eye to drug or alcohol use in the workplace could find themselves facing court action, Coombes said.

Employers have a duty under the Health and Safety in Employment Act to provide a safe workplace.

"It's easy to turn a blind eye to drugs and alcohol for fear of losing staff but this approach puts the employer in a vulnerable position in the event of an accident."

Focusing initially in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty, AgResultz services are available anywhere in the North Island, with an eye to expanding into the South Island.

AgResultz services effectively cover the "A to Z" of managing drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace.

Services include training courses for employers, run by forensic scientist and toxicologist Sue Nolan; helping employers ensure they have the contracts and policies in place to enable pre-employment and ongoing drug and alcohol screening; and onsite drug and alcohol testing services.

"Having the right contract and policy sets the standard and expectation from the start and gives you the ability to do drug testing at your workplace," Coombes said.

"Other than pre-employment testing, all other options - random, ‘reasonable cause' or post-incident testing - can only take place with a contract and policy in place."

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Coombes and Manders have a New Zealand Qualifications Authority qualification in collecting urine specimens and detecting drugs in urine. If more sensitive test results are needed, samples are sent to a laboratory.

The company also offers services supporting employer and employee if a drug test result is positive. It may be that the employee can be rehabilitated, with help, or it may be that concluding the employment relationship is the best approach and legally justifiable.

Coombes said her own farming businesses drug-test potential employees, then randomly drug-test existing employees three times a year.

"Benefits to the business and the staff are a safer work environment, fewer incidents and accidents and increased efficiencies.

"The power of good staff is just amazing. If you have great staff, everything is great. If you don't, you'll get headaches. People are your business."

Employers also have a responsibility to invest in their staff, Coombes said.

"Educate your staff, and get them involved in and passionate about the business. Give them the training, tools and support they need to do a great job and feel professionally satisfied."

Coombes said her reason for starting AgResultz was to help provide quality assurance in rural workplaces.

"We're there to make a difference. If we prevent an injury or death, we've done our job".

For more: See agresultz.co.nz.

The official view

ACC confirms that drugs are an issue identified by the agriculture sector. ACC has collaborated with industry leaders, such as the Alcohol and Liquor Advisory Council (ALAC) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, on a booklet offering solutions around alcohol and drug intervention in workplaces.

Initiatives in the agriculture sector include state-owned farmer Landcorp's drug-free policy, which includes pre-employment drug-testing, and the shearing industry's push to get drug and alcohol use out of the sector.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website says there is no specific employment-related law that deals with drug testing in the workplace. Whether employees can be tested for drugs in the workplace will depend on a variety of factors. Each case is different.

Factors that may be taken into account include whether an employee's work directly impacts the safety of others and whether there is a potential health and safety risk.

Employers also have to take into account a range of laws, which may include the Privacy Act, the Human Rights Act and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

For more: See Laws on drug testing in the workplace at http://www.dol.govt.nz/workplace/knowledgebase/item/1361v.

- Waikato

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