Workplace testing for alcohol and other drugs

Alcohol and other drugs testing in workplace

Conducting alcohol and other drug testing in the workplace is becoming a popular method for employers to ensure their employees are fit for duty at all times, as part of their risk management process.

Alcohol and drug testing is a complex and sensitive matter. Developing an effective policy and procedure in this area requires careful planning and consideration by the employer and collaborative consultation with employees.

This article provides a brief overview of the steps involved in setting up an effective testing regime for alcohol and other drugs in the workplace.

Purpose of a testing policy and procedure

The primary purpose of having an alcohol and other drug testing policy in the workplace is safety. Currently, there are specific laws in place to protect public safety by requiring companies in the commercial road transport, railways, civil aviation and marine transport industries to incorporate testing procedures into their employee drug and alcohol management plans.

Mining is another industry, which has extensive alcohol and other drug testing procedures in place due to the inherent dangers associated with the work performed on site.

Do you need an alcohol and other drug testing policy for your business?

When it comes to health and safety, one of the best resources for obtaining valuable information and ideas about ways improve your current system is your own workforce. Consulting with your employees and their workplace health and safety representatives about developing a testing policy is the best place to start.

Sync or Swim recommends that a qualified person be engaged to conduct a risk assessment, which analyses both the internal and external factors of the workplace to determine whether a testing procedure is necessary, and what factors unique to your business need to be specifically addressed by such policies and procedures. Factors that should be considered by the risk assessor include:

  • Whether the workplace operates dangerous machinery or uses hazardous materials;
  • Whether work is conducted in a high-risk environment; 
  • Workplace and industry culture of drug and alcohol use; and
  • Previous incidents at work relating to drug and alcohol use.

What should an effective testing policy include?

If a business goes down the path of implementing an alcohol and drug testing policy, it is important that all employees are consulted on the policy and trained on the procedures contained therein before it goes into effect.

The policy should clearly outline and address the following:

  • The purpose of the policy;
  • Important definitions;
  • Procedures for testing;
  • Under what circumstances a test will occur;
  • Employee assistance and referral procedures for employees with alcohol and drug problems;
  • Implications and procedures if an employee tests positive, or refuses to provide a sample for testing upon reasonable request;
  • Reassurance about employees’ privacy;
  • Retesting procedures; and
  • Disciplinary procedures.

When should testing take place?

Testing generally takes place in the following situations:

  • Pre-employment screening;
  • Pre-entry to the workplace;
  • Random audit situations;
  • Upon reasonable suspicion by management or other staff; or
  • Following a workplace incident.

       Testing may consist of obtaining an employee’s breath, urine, saliva or hair sample to detect the presence of Alcohol or other drugs in their system.

 Article by: Paul Bright, Business Development and Compliance Specialist.