Testing not effective in reducing drug use in the workplace: psychologist

A wellness approach is more effective at reducing alcohol and drug use among aged care staff than testing in the workplace, says a workplace psychologist.

A wellness approach is more effective at reducing alcohol and drug use among aged care staff than testing in the workplace, says a workplace psychologist.

Aged and Community Services NSW & ACT announced earlier this year it was working on a drug education and testing policy template for its members to address the risks associated with drug and alcohol and support staff who may need help.

While drug and alcohol testing is justified in some workplaces – such as ensuring people don’t operate heavy vehicles when they have a blood alcohol reading – only a small proportion of industries require this, said Nicole Lee, a workplace psychologist and associate professor at the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University.

Based on the little up-to-date published data on the use of drugs and alcohol by employees in different industries, Ms Lee said that health and welfare was considered low risk as an industry.

Instead of testing or focusing primarily on drug and alcohol use, Dr Lee said a fitness-to-work approach that encompassed policies on drugs and alcohol was more effective.

Dr Nicole Lee
Dr Nicole Lee

“Drug testing in the workplace hasn’t actually been shown to reduce use or harm in the workplace,” Dr Lee told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Other factors that cannot be tested for – such as stress, depression, anxiety, health problems and fatigue – could also affect a person’s fitness for work, she said.

Dr Lee, a director of 360Edge, which provides support in workforce development and alcohol and drug policies, said it was helpful for organisations to provide education to managers and workers, and employee assistance if they need it, rather than that more punitive approaches.

Stress, for example, was known to lead to high rates of drug and alcohol use, and was an area employers could address as part of a comprehensive approach to health and wellbeing, she said.

“We know that workplace conditions have a big effect on people people’s stress and therefore whether they use drugs and alcohol as well.”

Poor organisational culture, insufficient training, inadequate equipment, industrial action and poor job security could all trigger stress, impact on a person’s drug and alcohol use or increase their risk of not working to their full capacity, she said.

After effects most prominent

Across all industries, alcohol was a bigger risk factor than illicit drugs, Dr Lee said.

“Most people worry about drug use in their workplace but alcohol is probably the bigger problem. More people drink and most people who work drink; [around] 80 to 85 per cent. It is not that they are drinking at work, but it is probably going to affect more people.”

Dr Lee said the most common effects from alcohol and drugs were absenteeism, such as when an employee was hungover and couldn’t come to work, and presenteesim, when they came to work hungover and could not work to their full capacity.

“It is a relatively small proportion of people who would come to work affected by drugs and you would probably be able to tell without testing.”

She said organisations needed to question whether a testing policy added to their ability to identify a person affected by alcohol or drugs, and to consider the raft of legal and privacy implications of having a testing policy and what to do if a person tested positive.

“You have to have a quite good policy in place to ensure there is some kind of effective response to that,” Dr Lee said.

Regardless of testing, Dr Lee said it was important organisations had a clear and thorough policy on drugs and alcohol in the workplace that included the availability of drugs and alcohol on work sites, the provision of alcohol at work events, such as Christmas parties, and allowing people to drink during work time.

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Tags: drug-and-alcohol, nicole-lee, slider, workforce,

1 thought on “Testing not effective in reducing drug use in the workplace: psychologist

  1. This article contains information demonstrating a lack of familiarity with effective workplace drug and alcohol risk management – which includes testing as part of the strategy. Nothing personal Dr Lee – I would just encourage consultation with experienced drug & alcohol testing specialists.

    Most drug testing providers include educational approaches and employee assistance in any case. There can be no argument that a combination of testing with strategies supported by Dr Lee will work better than any of them in isolation.

    Dr Lee has neglected to mention the flipside to her comment that “Drug testing in the workplace hasn’t actually been shown to reduce use or harm in the workplace”. There is “no evidence” to show drug testing does not work to deter workers from attending when affected by drugs and/or alcohol.The drug testing industry and participating employers see the evidence of effectiveness of testing – nobody has bothered to formalise these results, but they will soon.

    Further, from experience I can disagree with alcohol as being the greatest problem since detection rates at work for drugs (in saliva – so recent use) are typically 4 times greater than alcohol.

    In addition, there is little difficulty in overcoming any perceived legal or privacy issues surrounding drug testing.

    Finally – it is pure logic that proves the risk of being caught affected by drugs or alcohol at work will make workers think twice before that extra 6 pack on a Sunday night or using illegal drugs.

    It seems Dr Lee and I would have much to discuss.

    Cameron Stuart

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