While drug testing, as a means of managing alcohol and other drug related risks in the workplace is a valuable tool, is has a number of significant limitations. Including:

  • a positive test for alcohol and other drugs is not in itself evidence of impairment of ability to perform or intoxication. This is particularly so in relation to the presence of a drug (other than alcohol) where there is much less international consensus on the relationship between the measured level of a drug (or its metabolite) and levels of impairment
  • if a worker refuses to be tested it cannot be presumed that they are intoxicated. Workers have a legal right to refuse to be tested, unless specific legislation, contracts or employment agreements provide otherwise
  • the reliability of testing can be subject to legal challenge due to varying accuracy rates.

The decision to use alcohol and other drug testing should be made in consultation with employees, OHS representatives and union representatives. Agreement may be sought where a risk assessment has identified that there are risks involved in undertaking certain activities whilst under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. Privacy, confidentiality and the legal position of employees and management also need to be considered.

However, WorkCover recommends that alcohol and other drug testing only be implemented as part of a comprehensive alcohol and other drug program with appropriate safeguards, clear policy and procedures, and provision of education and counselling. If utilised, testing should act as a deterrent, not a mechanism to ‘catch people out’.

Other less invasive strategies should be investigated before making a decision to introduce testing.

Workplace alcohol and other drug testing should be introduced if there are existing legislative provisions, such as those relating to rail safety workers, passenger transport workers and heavy vehicle drivers. There is also legislation prohibiting employees from working while intoxicated in the mining and aviation industries.

Employees should be informed about drug and alcohol testing expectations before commencing employment. Employees should also be informed that alcohol and other drugs used outside of the workplace may remain in their systems after returning to work and can affect work performance.

If testing is to be conducted, it is recommended that rigorous testing procedures be developed and applied. For further information, Australian Standards (including AS/NZS 4308:2001 and AS 4760- 2006) are a source of detailed technical advice on appropriate collection procedures. Employers need to ensure that all testing is undertaken by an accredited laboratory.

It is recommended that all workers with alcohol and other drug problems be referred for appropriate professional help, including to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).