Coming to Agreement: Benchmarking Workplace Safety

drug testing programEnterprise agreements are legally binding documents that set out the employment conditions between an employer and employees. The documents or contracts have to meet National Employment Standards and employees have to be better off because of the conditions included. One of the purposes of the enterprise agreement is to focus attention on particularly important issues concerning workplace health and safety. It is no surprise policies on alcohol and drugs, alcohol and drug testing, and benchmarking are three of the typical topics included among others like clean air, risk assessment, protective clothing, and many others.1

What does benchmarking have to do with a drug and alcohol policy? There is a direct and proven relationship between using drugs and alcohol in the workplace and the level of workplace safety and lost productivity. The Australian Drug foundation estimates that workplace substance use costs businesses more than $5.2 billion a year. Employers develop drug and alcohol policies, institute random and for-cause testing programs, and develop enterprise agreements to minimise those costs. Benchmarking is a way to measure the effectiveness of the policies, procedures, and agreements.

Measuring Up

Benchmarking is a bit like goal setting because it provides standards against which actual results can be measured. Developing a policy is important, but the employer needs to know that the implementation of the policy is effective. That is the purpose of benchmarking. For example, it may answer the question: How does a company measure up against industry performance or specific competitors in terms of employee turnover? The enterprise agreement can set benchmarks also but from the perspective of what the employer and employees agree are acceptable results in identified processes. The “agreement” metrics are based on self-analysis of the business processes and of other companies.

Ideally, benchmarking promotes preventive approaches to workplace health and safety. It is an ongoing process that sets standards, measures performance against standards, and leads to process revisions as necessary. For example, a benchmark is set for the number of positive drug and alcohol test results in a department or division that does regular hazardous work. If the results exceed the benchmark, the testing program needs revision, i.e. more frequent testing. However, just as importantly the employer knows to strengthen training and development, change job assignments, re-assess hazard policies, or take any of a number of steps to improve results.

When benchmarking drug and alcohol programs, the employer will look at priority areas that include organizational culture, risk identification, work practices, investigation of incidents connected to drugs and alcohol, and pre-employment processes.2 Concerning the last factor, if a department has a high safety risk and there are incidents involving substance use, the employer will want to add pre-employment drug and alcohol testing. The employer can benchmark a number of factors concerning the effectiveness of a drug and alcohol policy. They include the following as examples:

Absenteeism due to workers entering rehabilitation or counselling programs

Absenteeism due to workers sent home as a result of positive drug or alcohol tests

Lost time injury days due to substance-use related accidents per an established number of man hours

Leave without pay per the work days in a pay period

Employee awareness of the drug and alcohol policy as measured through regular employee surveys

Number of safety violations

Deepening Commitments to Health and Safety

In the enterprise agreement, the employer and employees agree to drug and alcohol testing and compliance expectations. It indicates who will be tested and the accredited testing company managing the screenings. It also addresses the actions that will be taken should workers test positive once, twice, or more often.

If approached correctly, benchmarking can deepen the commitment of managers and workers to maintaining a healthy and safe workplace. It also makes health and safety a component of general management systems and reporting systems. Both of these end goals apply to the drug and alcohol programs. Management needs employees committed to maintaining a substance free workplace and the confidence that the drug and alcohol program is effective.

Mediscreen is a NATA accredited provider of onsite drug and alcohol screening services. Trained sample collectors provide professional services that assist employers in their efforts to maintain the health and safety of their workers.


  1.  WHS in enterprise agreements. (2012) Workplace OHS. Retrieved at
  2. Benchmarking Occupational Health and Safety. (June 1996). Worksafe Australia. Retrieved at
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