Effective drug and alcohol policies key factor in minimising risk

18 October 2017

When it comes to drug and alcohol policies, it has become clear there cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. The policy adopted will depend on the industry, business and individual workplace.

Caltex Australia Petroleum (Caltex) has come to appreciate the value of effective drug and alcohol policies after a drunk employee of contractor Wood Group PSN Australia (Woods), in attempting to perform a transfer operation on a storage tank at its Banksmeadow Terminal, caused 157,000 litres of unleaded petrol to spill from the tank.

The incident, which occurred in July 2013, gave rise to Caltex spending more than $400,000 on rectifications and entering an $806,000 enforceable undertaking with SafeWork NSW. The contractor, Wood Group PSN Australia, entered into a separate $398,000 enforceable undertaking in late 2016. Caltex was ordered to pay a further $850,000 in fines and costs under environment laws in early 2017.

Andrew Orfanos, National Occupational Health and Hygiene Specialist of Caltex stated that as drug and alcohol abuse is common within the community, mitigating this risk should form a standard component of company risk management.

Drugs commonly tested for include alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, opiates and amphetamines. Popular testing methods include saliva and urine tests, with fewer companies opting to use blood and hair sample testing methods due to their invasive and expensive natures. Of saliva and urine tests, urine is generally regarded a most accurate, however is more invasive and vulnerable to sample tampering.

Some tests test simply for the presence of the drug, others for a positive reading beyond a certain concentration level. For example, when testing for benzodiazepines, where urine testing details target and confirmatory concentrations, the equivalent Standard for oral fluid does not.

In this way, an employee tested using a urine method would only read positive if they tested above a certain level of concentration. An employee tested using a saliva method, would test positive simply for presence of benzodiazepines, regardless of the level of concentration. Mr Orfanos does note however that the saliva standard is currently under review.

Recommendations for employers

In developing and implementing drug and alcohol policies, employers need to take into account what does or not constitute acceptable use; the testing method; privacy considerations and the target workplace and employees. Above all, it is clear that risk management must take priority throughout the process.

Hentys Lawyers is a premier adviser to employers on all facets of employment law. We can audit existing drug and alcohol policies or draft new policies which are compliant with the accepted best practice approach.