Growing use of drugs pose threat to resources sector: report

The increased use of drugs in Australia has posed increased challenges for employers in the mining and oil and gas sectors, according to a recent survey.

The AMMA 2016 Drug and Alcohol Testing Survey gathered quantitative and qualitative responses from 53 Australian resources employers, finding only 40 per cent of respondents test for synthetic cannabis.

This is amid concerns over the ability of testing to keep up with rapidly changing substances.

The report found that 65 per cent of respondents take a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drugs and alcohol in the workplace, while 26 per cent adopt a ‘harm minimisation’ approach; weighing each incidence on its particular circumstances and risks.

Urine and breath testing were widely used on Australia’s mine sites – 90 per cent and 88 per cent respectively – with 41 per cent of respondents using saliva testing.

Presenting the findings at the Ports Australia Conference in Melbourne today, AMMA’s director of workplace relations, Amanda Mansini, said that although employers are effectively managing the workplace risks, increased societal use of both illicit and prescription drugs is creating challenges.

“Despite most resource employers recording low instances of positive or non-negative tests, convincing employees to make sensible lifestyle choices outside the workplace remains a significant challenge in managing the potential impact of drugs and alcohol,” she said.

“It is also telling that at least 50 per cent of respondents reported that employment laws and union opposition have impacted on their ability to implement the drug and alcohol testing policy of their choice.”

The main challenges employers recorded in the survey include employees using masking agents or ‘fake’ urine samples; employees not realising the importance of declaring prescription medication; uncertainty around Australian standards for saliva testing – raising practical and legal concerns; and maintaining education and awareness among transient contractor workforces.

Mansini also called for companies to be able to select particular policies they find most suitable.

“The results back AMMA’s longstanding position that as the people responsible for creating a safe work environment, employers and site managers must be supported in choosing the drug and alcohol testing policies and procedures that they deem most suitable for their individual workplaces,” she said.

She went on to say that drug and alcohol policies are a critical part of achieving a ‘zero harm’ workplace, which requires a multi-pronged approach involving community education and awareness, effective testing, and laws and regulations that support employers’ decision making.