THE mining industry is at the forefront of Australian workplace safety with about 70% of Australia’s 380 mines with a drug-safe workplace program in place, according to drug and alcohol testing and screening specialist Frontline Diagnostics.
Managing Director Michael White established Frontline Diagnostics to provide Australian industry with a complete solution for the detection, management and control of alcohol and other drugs in the workplace.
White said Frontline Diagnostics has worked with about 80 to 100 mines since its foundation in 1999.
“The mining industry is definitely leading in Australia in terms of drug-safe workplace policies. The Australian mining industry wants to be seen as a forerunner worldwide in terms of OH&S issues and so it introduced the Mine Health and Safety Act in 2004. The Act stipulates that mines should introduce a policy or at least address the issue of drugs in the workplace,” he explained.
White said mines which have introduced a drug-safe workplace program have had a significant decline in the rates of people testing positive.
“In our experience, mines with a proper drug-safe workplace policy and regular drug testing have about four per cent of their staff testing positive to drug and alcohol screening. This is in comparison to 17 to 20% for mines which have not introduced a policy or testing. These mines attract drug users because staff are generally aware of which mines do not enforce a policy,” he said.
“Drug users who test positive on a few occasions can request counselling and quit consuming or leave their workplace. Many of them then enrol with a contractor,” White explained.
White said Frontline Diagnostics got astounding results when the company worked with a series of mines in NSW to run 7,000 tests in a year.
“At the beginning of the year, 17% of the mines staff tested positive to our drug and alcohol screening. By the end of the 12 months, only 1.8% tested positive. This is a huge decrease,” he said.
According to Michael White, the first step in implementing a drug-safe workplace policy is making sure it is user-friendly.
“The policy has to be easy to understand and openly explained to mine staff through workshops,” White said.
“It is also important to find an experienced screening company because spending hours every day on drug and alcohol screening costs mines a lot of money and time. An efficient screening company can reduce the amount of time taken to undertake drug screening,” he added.
White explained one of the challenges Frontline Diagnostics sometimes encounters is getting everyone to reach agreement.
“One of the challenges we face is making sure that everyone in the mining company including management, staff and unions understand and agree with the proper type of testing,” he said.
“We have had great success in talking one-on-one with mines’ management as they usually know what their drug and alcohol problems are. It is then easier for us to develop proper testing and tailored education workshops for staff,” he added.