DIY drug testing not the answer

By Kirk Hardy, CEO, The Drug Detection Agency

DRUG USE IS A REAL workplace problem. Drug testing, properly conducted, is an important tool in combatting it. There’s no cheap fix for drug testing.

Despite a growing body of evidence highlighting the problems and pitfalls of DIY drug testing New Zealand companies continue to look for low-cost solutions. The problem is, low cost equals high risk.

Companies trying to save money with DIY drug testing risk not only their company’s reputation and costly court battles but more importantly, they compromise their employees’ safety.

Drug testing seems a straightforward enough task, and DIY seems an easy way of keeping costs down. But it’s not so simple.  You need to be aware of the procedural and operational complexities of workplace drug testing. The accuracy of any test is dependent on the quality of the specimen, and judges have been critical about the accuracy of certain types of test. Further, you need to be up-to-date with all the latest sneaks and tricks users employ to fox testers and fake results. Just Google “fake drug testing” to see how much information is readily available to those who want to game the system.

Poor quality testing and a lack of qualified procedure represent a deadly combination that can easily result in a wrong test result. This can mean that an employee is wrongly accused of taking drugs or that someone taking drugs is not identified in the testing process.

When people operate heavy equipment or work in an industrial environment there’s no room for testing error. When an improper procedure compromises a test specimen or incorrect testing produces a false negative you open the door to serious injury – or even a fatality.

The reverse is almost as bad: A false positive may mean someone losing their job. That may affect their ability to make a living or to get another job. It may also expose your company to legal action.

When it comes to drug testing employers should adopt a three-step approach. We call it the PIS test: Policy, Independence and Standards.

The first step towards creating a safe and drug free workplace is to establish a DAMP (Drug Alcohol Management Programme) – a robust, company-wide drug and alcohol policy.  Having such a policy is fine, but the onus is then on the employer to ensure that it has been correctly followed. So make sure the policy is printed, prominently displayed and that workers are made aware of it and reminded about it.

And make a commitment to follow all the processes and procedures that your policy sets out. If matters ever come before the employment court, how the employer addressed its obligation will weigh heavily when the court makes its decision. Having a robust DAMP in place represents an investment in protecting your reputation and your employees.

Protecting the interests of the employer leads to a second consideration.

For a company to be seen to be serious about drug and alcohol testing, it helps to use an independent service provider who can provide the level of expertise required to deliver accurate outcomes in a professional manner.

Andrew Schirnack, from Auckland-based employment law firm Langton Hudson Butcher, says it’s open to employees to contest the integrity of drug test results.

“Using a cheap ‘do it yourself’ testing kit is likely to be a false economy.

“Employers doing this are handing their employees good ground to challenge the results. Using a quality testing regime conducted by an independent service provider will be money well spent.”

Finally, you need to ensure that your policy, the independent testers and your approach, conforms to best practice and the highest international standards.  You can’t afford to take short cuts when people’s lives and livelihoods – as well as the company’s reputation – are on the line.

This article first appeared in Contractor September 2017.

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