Testing for Drugs in the Workplace

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I have been in the health and safety field for over 20 years now and still remember seeing my first analysis tool, a glass tube and bag. Things have come a long way since then, you can buy your own breath analysis tool on line, though not exact, it can give a pretty good indication of levels in the system. External providers are used now to ensure a nonbiased approach with operators having qualifications/skills etc. to operate read and provide advice on the advanced measuring equipment in use today.

From what I have seen in recent times things have changed. It is not the ‘long lunch’ or the ‘night before’ that is of concern not even THC as much, it is the practice of ‘recreational’ drugs. Funny name, sounds like going to the park and taking the dog for a walk drug. Methamphetamines (also called meth, crystal, chalk, and ice, among other terms) and the range of workers taking the drug continue to amazed me. Managers, Supervisors, Mums, Dads and others who appear that there is no need to take any recreational drugs for whatever reason, are showing up on the random tests.

Then once identified with a measurable quantity in their system there is the complete denial that there is an issue. They are in complete control and can stop any time or the excuses “it must have been on the steering wheel from the person who drove the vehicle before and I absorbed it”, “someone must have spiked my drink” to the favorite fall back “your machine is wrong”.

What makes matters worse is the plethora of information, (web pages even) that is available providing advice, synthetic urine, hair and mouth Detox products that are supposed to beat the test. I have seen workers warn others by text or other sign in a workplace that the testing company has turned up and to hide. I have even heard the urban myth that salt and vinegar chips would beat the result. Reputable Testers are aware of these products/behaviors and change the process when they are aware of attempts to circumvent the testing process. Usually practice is to stall the test for about 20mins and leave them sit in the room while they have a ‘break’ then do the test.

The walk to the gate following these random tests with a non-negative worker is upsetting knowing that these workers have to go home and tell their spouse/parents that they were dismissed due to drugs in their system, drugs that had begun to take hold of their life. When it happens in your workplace and it is someone you would least suspect, even a workmate, you will ask the same question I always do, ‘Why?’ and ‘What could I have done as a safety professional to stop this rather than just randomly catching out workers with the drug’.

We need to provide education and support in our workplaces to stem the use of these recreational drugs in our community that spill over into the workplace. Open workplace education programs delivered before the introduction of the D&A process, followed by frank discussions supported by the Union with D&A operators present to assist in dispelling the urban myths that surround this drug.

Food for thought.

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