Increase in workplace drug testing

More southern employers are opting to drug-test their staff, and the New Zealand Drug Detection Agency said business is booming in Otago and Southland.

Workers for about 80 companies in Otago - the majority in Dunedin - now faced drug tests using NZDDA services as part of their employment.

NZDDA Otago-Southland general manager John Galliven, of Dunedin, said the Otago branch was formed only 18 months ago, and had been joined since by a Southland branch in June last year.

The number of Otago employers using the service had "easily doubled" in the past year, and the two branches together had experienced "about 400%" customer growth in the same period, he said.

That included the Dunedin City Council, the first southern council to become an NZDDA customer, which the Otago Daily Times this week reported was asking staff to consider a new alcohol-and-other-drugs policy.

Mr Galliven said "quite a few" other southern employers were also in talks to implement drug policies using NZDDA's services.

He would not confirm if that included other southern councils, saying only "there's going to be lots of things on the way".

The demand was being driven by a desire of employers to improve their health and safety performance, in line with legislative requirements.

That would lower organisations' health and safety costs, but also meant more workers went home safely each night, he said.

"At the end of the day, all we want to see is people going home to their families in one piece."

The demand was also increasing as more employers saw others implementing policies, he believed.

Nationwide, NZDDA staff carried out about 3500 tests each month.

However, Mr Galliven - a former Dunedin police detective - said the tests were not about "sacking workers".

Employers did not want to lose trained staff, and used rehabilitation programmes to help those found to be impaired at work.

Despite that, he made no apology for encouraging workers to change their personal habits to ensure safety at work.

"It also extends to their home life as well. Once they've kicked certain habits into touch, you generally find you've got a more productive worker, a safer worker and probably the home life is not too worse off for it either."

The tests had raised privacy concerns, with some southern workers complaining to their unions, and NORML New Zealand - the pro-marijuana law reform group - argued the drug's lingering presence did not constitute impairment.

However, Mr Galliven said initial opposition within a workplace was often replaced by gratitude, with some workers saying the tests had helped "turn their lives around".

"We quite often hear the negative impact that drug testing has out there in relation to human rights . . . it's nothing compared to the success stories when you see people actually turn their lives around."

He had no sympathy for arguments against the tests, with evidence drug users, including alcohol, more likely to miss work, be involved in workplace accidents, or work less productively than their colleagues.

"I don't see there being any benefit in someone taking illegal substances - in the weekend, after work, before work - that may well affect their work and the safety of other people.

"Where's the argument? For me, if I was going to employ someone, I would want to know if they had those issues before I employed them, hence a pre-employment drugs test."

Once contracted, NZDDA staff helped employers prepare drug policies, trained managers and educated staff.

An "amnesty period" applied before tests were introduced, carried out by NZDDA staff.

Results were available immediately, with clean employees resuming work and those returning positive - or "non-negative" - test results stood down while their samples were sent to the Environmental Science and Research laboratory in Wellington for analysis.

NZDDA staff were not involved in any covert surveillance or search operations - both powers being proposed under the new DCC policy, Mr Galliven said.

He could not say how many other NZDDA customers had similar powers as part of their policies.

• New Zealand Drug Detection Agency incorporated in 2005.
• New Zealand's only on-site International Accreditation New Zealand-accredited provider.
• 15 branches in New Zealand; 3500 tests nationwide each month.
• Otago branch opened in 2009; Southland branch last year.
• 80 Otago employers now using NZDDA services.


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