Roadside drug testing of commercial drivers

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On 1 June 2008, the South Australian Minister for Road Safety, Carmel Zollo, announced an increased enforcement campaign against drug-affected drivers

In her media statement, Ms Zollo says

“When people take drugs and drive, they are taking a deadly risk – and the worst possible outcome of such irresponsible behaviour is a tragic crash. Drug testing is relatively new and we need to do all we can to change attitudes – we need people to know they will pay a price, one way or the other – and we need to convince them the best thing to do is to stay off the roads.”

Given the large number of commercial vehicles and drivers on the road, I asked the Minister’s office how this enforcement process and increased fines would apply to drivers who are found to be drug-affected in a work vehicle or undertaking work tasks.  I haven’t had a response from the Minister but I put the same scenario to the SafeWork SA.

A spokesman for SafeWork SA told me that “the situation regarding the new drug driving laws in SA doesn’t change a whole lot as far as [SafeWork SA is] concerned. Such offences would fall under the Road Traffic Act in the first instance, and would be handled by SA Police.”

He emphasises that this issue 

“…is another compelling reason for employers who do have staff on the road to ensure a policy is in place regarding alcohol and other drugs in the workplace. This will ensure that all workers are clear about what expectations exist in relation to drugs and alcohol on the job, and what the consequences will be for any breaches.  Such a policy would assist employers in managing their legal obligation to identify hazards, assess risks and implement appropriate control measures for those risks.”

I agree and appreciate the fact that he did not say, as many employees and managers assert, that having a policy makes the workplace safer. Having a policy does not even imply compliance, only action and enforcement can achieve that.

What his comments do indicate though is that a workplace hazard that OHS professionals are expected to manage goes through several processes before it reaches, if at all, the relevant OHS authority and regulator.  Is it any reason that the drug driving of workplace vehicles gets little attention when a major motivator of change, legal OHS action from a government regulator or at least the threat of action, is not occurring in the OHS context.

The driver penalty structure only applies within the general driving conditions controlled by the Road Act even though a driver could be severely impaired in a mobile workplace. The workplace context applies in other safety legislation such as rail safety and mining safety, why is not the work context of a positive roadside drug test being applied?  On the issue of impairment, there is little difference between a white delivery van driver and 18-wheeler.  Both can kill others and themselves.

Perhaps the Australian National OHS Review can consider occupational issues in other traditionally public areas of safety – security staff in nightclubs? level crossings?

Law Review or Safety Review

The issues paper of National Review into Model OHS Laws is a peculiar beast for several reasons. Firstly, it is a review of legislation and restricts itself to the OHS Act. However it wants submissions on other safety legislation that has“interdependence” such as road safety, rail safety and others. That is a very big ask…

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Australia’s OHS Review issues paper imminent

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Over the last few months, the national OHS review panel of Robin Stewart-Crompton, Barry Sherriff and Stephanie Mayman have met with OHS authorities in all the state jurisdictions, various union representatives, and, interestingly, many of the Courts.  The panel also attended the recent ACTU conference.

The issues paper for the review will be released on 30 May 2008, the deadline agreed to in the initial review timetable.

The public comment phase will run to 11 July 2008.  No public hearings are scheduled.  This is disappointing as OHS experts have pointed out that OHS law is probably the only piece of law that workers and managers can readily understand and apply without firstly undertaking a law degree.  This means that there are a lot of “bush lawyers” in OHS in Australia but this also means that there is a greater pool of informed opinion to draw from.

Many OHS professionals and practitioners have a better understanding of the application of this law and should be given an opportunity to address the panel in a public forum,  if for no better reason than it is the best use of their valuable time.  Not everyone who should be heard can devote the necessary time to writing 5,000 word submissions, nor do they have the luxury of being able to charge top dollar on hourly rates for someone else to cover their time.

 

Political jostling on OHS reform

The national review into OHS law in Australia has started to generate political jostling as individual states start to realise exactly what they may be asked to relinquish. All government departments and jurisdictions try to maintain their authority, influence and turf and the concern with this OHS review is that it may introduce reforms, or at least tweaks, that could derail the more politically important and controversial changes to industrial relations.

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The national review into OHS law in Australia has started to generate political jostling as individual states start to realise exactly what they may be asked to relinquish. All government departments and jurisdictions try to maintain their authority, influence and turf and the concern with this OHS review is that it may introduce reforms, or at least tweaks, that could derail the more politically important and controversial changes to industrial relations.

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