Drug test failures cost employees' jobs

At least four people have lost their jobs in Queenstown after failing drug or alcohol tests, while others haven't been hired based on adverse test results.

Tourism operator Real Journeys pioneered testing in 2007 and others have followed. They include Skyline, NZone, Ngai Tahu Tourism and Shotover Canyon Swing, where testing has become routine in the past two years.

At Skyline one person ''chose to leave'', but chief executive Jeff Staniland said there had been other departures because of positive tests.

NZone spokesman Derek Melnick said one staff member had left as a result of the test.

Potential staff were tested before being hired and at least once a year after that, he said.

Matt Hollyer, of Shotover Canyon Swing, said the company did between six and 20 tests annually, but he would not say if if it had had any fails.

Skyline chief Jeff Staniland said testing was ''a regular occurrence''. Testing at all three companies was confined to staff in ''safety-critical roles''.

At Ngai Tahu Tourism, several staff in each of the company's business, including Shotover Jet and Dart River Jet Safaris, were tested fortnightly, group head David Kennedy said.

''We do pre-employment, random and post-incident tests.

''I've been called into the little white van myself four times.''

There had been no fails within the company, Mr Kennedy said.

At Real Journeys, head of personnel Kevin Sharpe said two people no longer worked for the company as a result of failed tests, while more had failed ''the pre-employment test''.

The company's testing contractor ''has our employee list and randomly selects about six people each month''.

There were also pre-employment and post-incident tests for staff.

Demands for adventure-tourism drug testing followed the 2010 Fox Glacier skydive and 2012 Carterton ballooning tragedies where 20 people died.

Balloon pilot Lance Hopping tested positive for cannabis and there was also cannabis evidence in the bodies of the two skydive tandem masters.

In April's Carterton inquest report, coroner Peter Ryan recommended Civil Aviation Authority regulations should require random testing.

Mr Staniland said: ''Tourists put their faith and trust in operators so [the industry] has to be confident the people looking after guests are in a fit state to do so.''

Just having the testing regime in place changes staff behaviour, he said.

Mr Sharpe said his company took a ''tough stance'' on anything which put the well-being of staff and customers at risk.

''Everyone in the industry should test - and randomly.''

Destination Queenstown chief executive Graham Budd agreed.

''One of the appeals of New Zealand and Queenstown is that this is a safe place to visit.''

To any local tourism firm not presently testing, Mr Budd said he would ''encourage them to consider doing so''.

Aviation and marine tourism operators must test under CAA and Maritime NZ regulations.

Other adventure-activity firms are required by health and safety laws ''to manage the drug and alcohol-related risks in their workplaces''- Mountain Scene.

by Frank Marvin 

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