Fish firm bolsters drug test stance

Poll:Commercial fishing companies are introducing more drug testing among staff, but concerns persist that some operators are not doing enough to address the issue.

Sanford Ltd is the latest to strengthen its stance on drugs in the workplace.

Sanford general manager of operations Greg Johansson said the company, which operates throughout the country, including Bluff, had carried out drug testing on deep-water fishermen since the 1990s.

However, it had now rolled out testing among all staff.

It is understood some of the Bluff staff are unhappy with the more frequent drug testing but Mr Johansson said it was expected because some people felt threatened by change.

"We have got to be responsible employers and provide a safe workplace."

The company had started to standardise its drug and alcohol policy throughout the group in the past year.

Random tests had not been carried out in some branches, such as Bluff.

Now staff in all branches of the group are tested before being employed, both after an incident and randomly, Mr Johansson said.

Sanford is now randomly testing about 20 per cent of all staff each year for drugs.

Asked whether the extra testing was the result of a particular incident, he said it was not; it was just to standardise policy.

Staff had been educated and informed by external parties, he said.

The New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen and Maritime New Zealand supports the increased testing.

Federation president Doug Saunders-Loder said he was not naive and knew drugs were an issue in the industry.

"An issue for the fishermen, just as drugs are for society."

Most commercial fishermen recognised their health and safety obligations, abided by a policy and met expectations.

However, independent operators might not place the same emphasis on protocols as corporate companies, he said.

It was imperative that boat operators, who put other people's lives on the line, were tested to make sure they were thinking straight, he said.

Talley's, for which Mr Saunders-Loder works, tests workers on a regular basis, he said.

Federation member Peter Scott, who operates in Southland, said most fishermen were conscientious when it came to drug testing, which was a sensitive issue.

A Maritime New Zealand spokesman said it strongly recommended operators prohibit the use of alcohol and other drugs on board a boat.

FishSafe, an initiative involving Maritime New Zealand, ACC and fishing industry representatives, provides guidelines for skippers and crew and outlines alcohol and drug use effects, hazards and legal requirements.

It recommends skippers have a alcohol and drug policy "to set out what [they] expect of all those working on the vessel".

Despite drug testing being widespread in many industries, New Zealand Drug Detection Agency Otago and Southland general manager John Galliven said it was only starting to break into the fishing industry.

Workplace drug and alcohol testing takes place mostly in safety-sensitive industries such as construction, forestry, meatworks, manufacturing, mining, oil and gas, transport and waste.

Statistics show cannabis continues to be the most frequently detected drug in workplaces. 

The Southland Times