Drug and alcohol testing does not improve workplace safety, so why have it? 1

cover of EN455_NCETA_2011-2 Testing for drug and alcohol effects in workplaces sounds sensible but what do you do when there is no evidence that it improves worker safety or reduces risk? Apparently ignore the evidence, create industrial tension and impose unnecessary costs on industry.

The Australian national government and the Victorian (State) government have both pledged to introduce drug and alcohol testing for the construction sector.  The Victorian Government also promised to introduce drug and alcohol testing for parliamentarians but everyone expects a backdown on that election pledge.

Recently two researchers in Adelaide, Ken Pidd and Anne Roche published a research paper in Accident Analysis & Prevention asking “how effective is drug testing as a workplace safety strategy?“.  The abstract states:

“…the evidence base for the effectiveness of testing in improving workplace safety is at best tenuous.”


Applying a “bullshit filter” during Mental Health Week 5

Cover of MCA_Mental_Health_Blueprint_FINALThis week in Australia is Mental Health Week.  Some call it an Mental Health Awareness Week.  Either way the Australian media will be full of experts and “experts”.  Workplace health strategies will not be excluded but when reading and listening to this media content, one important point should be remembered – “mental health” is significantly different from “mental illness”.

Such differentiation should not be dismissed as semantics because health, illness, problems and disorders involve different levels of analysis and diagnosis and, therefore, different strategies, interventions and control measures.

Recently the Minerals Council of Australia released its mental health blueprint in which the following important definitions were prominent. More…

Poorly planned safety risk registers can be painful Reply

Due diligence on black blackboard with businessman

One of the most neglected occupational health and safety (OHS) management tools in Australian workplaces is the safety risk register even though they fit well with the renewed emphasis on OHS Due Diligence.

Every OHS professional dreads risk registers as these are often bureaucratic requirements that demand a risk workshop, that often fail to contribute to safety management or improvements and that senior executives sometimes rely on as being a definitive picture of risk. However this dread often originates from poor initial planning or looking for an easy “out”. More…

Front page drug testing article is marketing Reply

An article last week touched briefly on the issue of the effect of synthetic drugs in the workplace in the context of drug and alcohol testing.  The Australian newspaper on 28 September 2015 contained a front page article (paywalled) about mining company concerns over synthetic drugs at work, however it is an article that deserves greater analysis before anyone considers this as part of an evidence base as it is creatively constructed and relies on statements from a toxicologist working for drug testing laboratory. More…

Union launches drug and alcohol testing program 5

In March 2015, after years of resistance to drug and alcohol testing, Australia’s Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) changed its position substantially.  The catalyst for change has never fully been explained but this week, the CFMEU actively promoted drug and alcohol testing at a major construction site in Geelong.

On 22 September 2015 at the Waurn Ponds Epworth Hospital site, the CFMEU launched its Drug and Alcohol Management Program (DAMP). More…

Drug and alcohol testing amendments may weaken safety 2

Last week the former Workplace Relations Minister, Eric Abetz, informed Australians that amendments had been introduced into the Building Code 2013 concerning drugs and alcohol testing.  However an analysis of those amendments shows that the amendments may not achieve what Abetz promised.

Siobhan Flores-Walsh, a Partner with the Australian law firm, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, has provided the following table that summarises a couple of those amendments. More…

OHS and IR share the stage at safety convention 1

Nigel Hadgkiss of Fair Work Building & Construction (FWBC) took the opportunity of the SIA National Convention in September 2015 to explain his thoughts on occupational health and safety (OHS) and industry relationSIA Conference 2015 (21)s (IR).  Hadgkiss (pictured right) argued that he had an obligation to protect the safety and health of his employees/inspectors from a major workplace hazard presented by officials of the Construction Forestry Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU). In OHS terms, his perspective is understandable but his political opponent, Michael Borowick of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), also appearing at the conference, held a different opinion. More…

Drug and alcohol testing for Australian construction sites 5

On 18 September 2015 Senator Eric Abetz introduced amendments to the Building Code so that drug and alcohol testing will be required on construction sites.  In his media release he states that:

“The construction industry is a high risk industry where the risks associated with the use of heavy machinery, mobile equipment, working in congested areas and working from heights, are accentuated by the effects of alcohol and drug use.”

Following this argument, would not greater safety benefit be gained by addressing the risks posed by machinery, working at heights and in congested areas?  Drug and alcohol testing will do little to reduce these risks, or more correctly, hazards.  Being impaired may make it more likely for a worker to fall while working at heights but creative and safe design could eliminate the risk of working at heights altogether. More…

The rebuilding of OHS conferences 7

All conference delegates want to hear cutting-edge, radical or step-change solutions or strategies but what happens when the conference speakers are reinforcing what you already know? That is the situation facing the delegates of the Safety Institute of Australia’s (SIA) National Convention.

On the first day of the conference, local and international speakers have suggested the delegates, almost all occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals, do what they are already doing – talk about safety, build relationships, report on the positives and the lead indicators. More…

More care needed in discussing workplace mental health and mental illness 2

Writing about workplace mental health is a tricky task.  An article recently posted to Business News Western Australia shows how tricky it can be and how mental health can be misinterpreted as mental illness.

The headline, “Are you one of the 20% of workers that will experience a mental health issue?” clearly refers to workers but the first sentence of the article does not.  “Australian adults” are not all “workers”.

Out of the total population of around 24 million Australians, Wikipedia estimates the working-age population of Australia (15 – 64 years) at round 67% (16 million, approximately). If we apply these statistics to the headline, there are 3.2 million workers who “will experience a mental health issue”. But is this annually, over one’s working life or over a lifetime? The article does not say.

Not only are the statistics messy, so is the terminology. More…