Workplace drug testing doubles

00:03, Jan 10 2013
Test
Wee test: Drug Testing Services managing director Jo Kirk with a drug testing urine sample cup.

Employers are becoming more aware of the dangers of drugs and alcohol in the workplace as well as the benefits of testing for them.

Recent statistics show that workplace drug testing in New Zealand has almost doubled in the past 12 months.

However, Drug Testing Services' Manawatu managing director Rick Lewer said workplace testing has been carried out here for 20 years when the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 required every employer to take all practical steps to ensure employee safety and eliminate hazards.

Mr Lewer said alcohol and drugs were identified as hazards.

"The payoff for companies was that it should reduce workplace accidents, lower staff turnover, increase productivity and even raise staff morale."

He said alcohol and cannabis were the most commonly abused drugs.

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"The ill-effects of alcohol are just as serious as drugs," he said.

"Some businesses adopt a zero tolerance and others use the industrial standard of 100 micrograms per litre [of breath] or 0.02 per cent, which is a quarter of the adult legal road limit in New Zealand."

Mr Lewer said cannabis was the No 1 problem drug in New Zealand, with about 60 per cent of the positive tests indicating cannabis.

The next most abused drug is methamphetamine, detected in almost 15 per cent of all positive tests in 2011. According to police statistics for the past year, about 8 per cent of men aged between 18 and 24 use meth.

Mr Lewer said that, depending on the workplace, between 10 and 20 per cent of employees tested positive for an illegal drug and that users were nearly four times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident.

"Certain businesses have a high ratio of drug users and others are low," he said.

"The rate varies depending on the type of workplace and environment.

Most companies had a three- pronged approach to deal with a staff member who tested positive.

"Depending on the circumstances the staff member can be warned, put on a rehabilitation plan or dismissed."

Random testing may be carried out only where it is expressly provided for in a company's alcohol and drug policy. Employees may not be tested without "reasonable cause".

Drug testing usually involves a person giving a urine sample which is screened at a cost of between $45 and $95. If the screening test indicates a drug may be present the sample would be sent to a laboratory for analysis at a cost of about $120.

Alcohol testing involves a breath screening test with an approved device and costs about $50.

Wellington company John Leen Plumbing first carried out drug testing of its staff two years ago.

Service manager Warren Shervey said it was a proactive move to promote quality, rather than reacting to any suspicion.

"Our company has a strong health and safety policy due to the commercial contracts we undertake and we want to ensure we're providing our clients with the best personnel who are operating at their best," he said.

"And, we have no fear of an employee turning up to work and operating in an unsafe way, putting themselves and others at risk."

Mr Shervey said if they had an employee test positive, it would not result in instant dismissal, rather they would work with them in rehabilitation. He said workplace testing was now encouraged and accepted within the construction industry.

Drug Testing Services' Horowhenua-Kapiti-Wellington managing director Jo Kirk said getting found out "can often be the first step to them becoming drug or alcohol-free".

"And, the testing itself is easy - all that's needed on site is a toilet - and it provides instant results. [Recently] we were testing employees at a market garden, using a port-a-loo out in the middle of a paddock."

Mrs Kirk said as well as the construction and horticulture industries, workplace drug testing was also common in supermarkets, mills, meatworks, employment agencies, farms, truck driving companies, as well as city and district councils.

Kapiti Observer