Drug and alcohol testing is critical to employer efforts to maintain workplace health and safety. Equally important is engaging with employees so they adopt and accept the policy and principles that support a safe workplace. The reality is that people must embrace a positive workplace culture and develop the desire to support management policies designed to keep all workers safe and healthy. Otherwise, the program can be easily derailed when employees fail to cooperate. Drug and alcohol testing alone cannot ensure a substance free workplace because employees must want to support the policy, help keep drugs and alcohol out of the workplace, and assist in the effort to keep the workplace safe.
Many employers present drug and alcohol programs without emphasising the safety and health aspects. One of the first rules of employee engagement is consulting with the workforce whilst the policy is being developed and before it is introduced. The ideal program has mutually acceptable goals which promote internalisation of the goal of maintaining a substance free place of employment. However, even if the drug and alcohol testing policy was previously developed without workforce consultation, it is still important to make a sincere effort to engage the employees to gain their support.1 In fact, consultation with employees may lead to policy changes based on information they provide.
Engaging employees requires sincerity, honesty, and communication. Employers should not present the policy as if it is a dictum and not open to discussion. The zero tolerance policy is non-negotiable, but employees have valuable information that can make policy adherence more likely. For example, they can discuss issues like departmental stress factors, supervisor training, and management responses to suspected employee substance use. During training sessions, employees should have adequate time to ask questions and should get motivating and honest answers. Fear is not a motivator. Employers usually make worker termination a last resort response to workplace substance use. The clear message for employees is this: Drugs and alcohol are not allowed in the workplace, and if discovered, there will be appropriate action taken. However, appropriate action can focus on treatment first whenever possible.
The success of the employee engagement strategies is dependent on how the drug and alcohol testing policy is presented and how often the topic is discussed. Education and training needs to be ongoing to reinforce the policy with employees and to ensure new hires are well-informed. Offering regular training also creates a two-way communication channel for workers who may have issues come up in between training sessions.
Connecting the Parts
The alcohol and drug testing program has to be part of a safety management system and not a standalone strategy that fails to connect broad safety and health issues with being substance free. A testing program that stands alone is a simplistic solution to a complicated issue. Drug and alcohol testing can be viewed as a complementary strategy that blends with other initiatives, including training, education, employee assistance programs, return-to-duty programs, and so on.2 Ultimately, the testing program is just one component of a comprehensive response to maintaining a substance free workplace.
Achieving successful employment engagement concerning the drug and alcohol testing program also relies on using quality screening services. Poorly administered collection and screening services can harm engagement efforts. Mediscreen (mediscreen.net.au) services more than 700 employers across Australia and uses the highest quality standards to deliver drug and alcohol sample collection and screening services.
- Ken Pidd, Ann Roche & Michael White. (2011, October). Workplace Drug and Alochol Testing. Retrieved January 6, 2014 from NCETA and Flinders University: http://bit.ly/1fCtREE.
- DOTARS and CASA. (2006). Review Into Safety Benefits of Introducing Drug and Alcohol Testing for Safety Sensitive Personnel in the Aviation Sector. Retrieved January 6, 2014 from http://bit.ly/Mx2lzI.