Inquiry hears the use of ice in mining on the rise

The Federal inquiry into ice has heard the use of the drug is on the rise in the mining industry. 

The AIG says data shows the monthly use ice is higher in the mining sector than in other workplaces, with 38 per cent of workers surveyed admitting to taking the drug.

A submission to the inquiry by the Australian Industry Group said the distribution, supply and usage of Ice, directly affects Australian employers by creating significant work health and safety risks, damaging working relationships, draining labour productivity and reducing workforce participation.

The AIG highlighted a number of cases, including a dump truck driver who presented to work under the influence of ice.

Testing revealed the worker produced a positive result for methamphetamine four times above the detection cut off level.

In another case, AIG discussed the alleged conduct of three road train supervisors in coercing a subordinate employee to withdraw cash on the employer’s credit card in order to purchase ice.

The Australian Industry Group's Stephen Smith said the increasing use of ice was a concern for mining workers.

“If you're working on a construction site or in a mine you want to be very sure that the person working alongside you is not affected by a drug like ice,” Smith said.

The AIG wants to see employers allowed to conduct workplace drug and alcohol testing without the opposition of unions, which it claims have inhibited many employers in managing work health and safety risks.

“While the relevance of drug and alcohol testing to managing safety risks has generally been recognised by industrial tribunals for some time, many disputes have arisen with unions over types of testing regimes, or indeed whether testing is necessary.” AIG said.

AIG targeted the CFMEU, claiming the unions’ drug and alcohol testing policy objectives prioritise the rights of drug-affected employees ahead of workplace safety.

“The policy objectives focus on worker impairment rather than objective, medical drug and alcohol testing procedures underpinned by Australian Standards,” AIG said.

“Specifically it is proposed that worker impairment is determined by observations made by members of an employer’s safety committee.

“This is equivalent to seeking to replace breathilizer testing of car drivers with a subjective check-up by a committee of police officers or other car drivers, in order to determine if a car driver is over the 0.05 blood alcohol limit and should not drive their car.”

AIG also wants to see employers supported through education resources which aim to assist in dealing with the impacts of ice in the workplace, including providing details of external support services for affected employees to complement existing employee assistance programs (EAPs) provided by many employers.

In addition, AIG recommends that law enforcement authorities provide workplace liaison services and dedicated hotlines for employers and employees impacted by Ice, including for those in regional and remote locations.

In its submissions the Minerals Council of Australia said there is clear evidence that the use of ice across the Australian community had increased, and said it expects the mining workforce to reflect the community statistics.

However the council added that to date, formal testing indicated the figure does not appear abnormally high.

Of the 16,000 drug and alcohol tests conducted in the Hunter Valley over the last 12 months by Coal health Services, only 0.21 per cent of all tests returned a positive result for ice, the council said.

However the council conceded that detection of ice remains challenging given the shorter period the drug stays in the users’ system.

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