Top tips: Starting a workplace drug and alcohol testing program

TDDA - The Drug Detection Agency

By Glenn Dobson, CEO, The Drug Detection Agency
Friday, 14 July, 2023

Top tips: Starting a workplace drug and alcohol testing program

Proactive risk management is essential in all industries. Drug and alcohol use in the workplace is a serious issue that has negative consequences for employees, employers, a business’s bottom line and reputation, and the public.

Implementing a comprehensive and robust workplace testing program can help to reduce drug- and alcohol-related risks and create a safer, more productive work environment.

The need for workplace substance testing programs

Substance use in safety-sensitive workplaces can significantly increase the risk of physical harm, injury or even fatality. Drug and alcohol testing programs help employers identify and mitigate risks and deter substance use. Comprehensive policies and programs also provide employers with information to make informed hiring decisions and provide pathways for employee rehabilitation and retention.

Testing helps foster a productive environment with high morale, and positively contributes to a business’s reputation. It sends a message to prospective clients that the business takes credibility and reliability of services seriously. Below are five tips for implementing a comprehensive workplace drug and alcohol testing program.

1. Consult an expert on policy development

Leading businesses consult an expert when developing a substance use policy, to ensure it is clear and fit for purpose. Experts understand the complex nature of workplace drug and alcohol policies and practice. They help ensure that a policy is compliant with legal and regulatory requirements, that it promotes health and safety effectively and that it protects employee rights.

A good policy has a purpose and scope, and covers types of testing, reasons for testing and procedures around engaging testing. If an organisation uses pre-employment, random, reasonable cause, post-incident, client requirement and rehab testing, it needs to be covered. The policy should be explicit about testing methodologies and explore post-testing pathways and plans. There should be scope for reviewing results, including engaging a Medical Review Officer and rehabilitation options — all while protecting confidentiality.

Drug and alcohol policies also need to cover known and emerging drugs as well as prescribed medications.

2. Implement employee education and training

Management and employee education is crucial to the success of a drug and alcohol testing program — it is no use having a policy that’s unknown or misunderstood. Education ensures understanding of expectations, rights and obligations under the policy. When the benefits of safety are effectively communicated, it encourages buy-in and creates a culture of awareness and responsibility. Training sessions are a great way to teach management to identify risks and engage appropriate courses of action.

3. Ensure best practice testing procedures

Testing procedures should be clearly defined and adhere to best industry practice. It is important to use an independently accredited provider and a certified lab, as this ensures samples are taken and analysed accurately in accordance with the relevant standards. This removes doubt and helps your business to withstand potential litigation.

Lab testing can accurately identify both the type and amount of substances in a person’s system; this is particularly important when it comes to prescription medications. Different tests can reveal different information, for example an organisation may wish to use oral fluid or urine testing for random and post-incident testing, as this provides an indication of recent drug use. Hair testing is considered best practice for pre-employment testing as it can reveal patterns of habitual use.

4. Factor in return to work and rehabilitation programs

Workplace drug and alcohol programs should have structured approaches for addressing positive test results, and these need to be clearly communicated to employees before testing. Employees should be advised of their right to have the “B” sample independently analysed if they dispute the initial lab analysis and/or engage an independent Medical Review Officer. If an employee has a good record and is willing to engage with the employer, a rehabilitation program may enable the organisation to keep valued workers.

5. Regularly undertake program maintenance

Leadership must regularly evaluate the program to ensure its effectiveness. A good testing partner captures, secures and delivers accurate and real-time data to help review testing outcomes from incidents. They identify patterns and areas for improvement and give a business access to instantly actionable information. Leadership should also consider feedback from employees, supervisors and stakeholders to encourage buy-in, and consistent and effective testing.

Comprehensive substance-use policies are essential for safety-sensitive workplaces and benefit both the employer and employee. If an organisation is looking to roll out a new substance policy, or review its current policy, engaging an expert is recommended. Experts help with policy development and effective education.

Further, using an independently accredited tester means organisations will get legally robust, accurate testing practices that provide them with actionable information. Regularly reviewing the program with management is vital to keep up it up-to-date, compliant and relevant to the workplace. Whatever methods are chosen, there is no denying that drug and alcohol testing programs contribute to safer workplaces.

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