Close to 5,000 workers in safety-sensitive industries are turning up to their jobs under the influence of methamphetamines (predominately ice) in the state of South Australia, according to a Business SA discussion paper, which called on employers to take a more proactive approach to deal with the problem.
Nationally in 2017, 1.9% of workers in safety-sensitive industries tested positive, equating to more than 18,500 people on any given day, according to statistics compiled for the report.
With 226,400 workers in safety-sensitive industries Including construction, mining, agriculture, transport, and utility services in South Australia, the volume of daily positives represents 5000 workers testing positive.
“People who take methamphetamines feel the effect for up to 48 hours, meaning they may not know they are still under the influence,” said Business SA senior policy adviser Estha van der Linden.
“If they are under the influence they would be putting themselves and their colleagues at risk.
“They may also be unpredictable, have mood swings and be at risk of psychotic episodes,” said van der Linden, who added that employers were legally obliged to ensure workplaces were safe.
“All businesses should consider creating a workplace drug policy, preparing them for potential accidents or emergencies, or in case they suspect one of their staff members is under the influence.”
The Ice Age discussion paper said the culture of any workplace can play a large role in whether drug use is accepted and encouraged or discouraged.
Employees may feel pressured to join co-workers in ‘end of the working week’ social rituals despite not normally partaking on a regular basis.
Similarly, employees working long, or irregular hours may be encouraged by co-workers to use stimulants to combat the effects of fatigue, or as a stress release.
Businesses should identify why their worksite or employee has an issue, according to the paper, and although those who are young (18-30 years old), male and employed as tradespersons or technicians are the workforce groups most likely to use methamphetamines, it said no workplace is immune.
“Factors such as high levels of stress, long hours and shift work contribute to an elevated risk,” the report said.
“Regular drug testing by itself may not change a culture around drugs.
“As a large proportion of methamphetamine use occurs outside of work hours and testing by saliva/urinalysis has a detection period of approximately 24 hours after use, weekend use may be undetectable.”
Van der Linden said businesses should create their own policies around drug and alcohol use in the workplace, so they can prepare themselves to deal with incidents should they arise.
“That could mean including a regular drug testing regime, a causal testing system which is triggered by evidence or accidents, workplace education and employee assistance programs,” she said.
Although tests may be negative, the report said this doesn’t mean a drug problem won’t negatively affect workplace safety and productivity, and needs to be addressed.
The hangover effects of methamphetamine use can last for several days afterwards and can include fatigue, aggression, mood swings and depression, and these cannot be tested for but can still impact the workplace.
There is also a shift away from the traditional approach to managing alcohol and drug-related harm in the workplace to a broader primary prevention approach.
Drug testing should not be used in isolation and should be combined with education, training and employee assistance programs to have a positive effect on the workplace.
In addition to implementing drug and alcohol policies and procedures and or drug testing, the report recommended 6 steps which are likely to be effective in improving workplace culture and providing long-term positive changes:
1. Education and training
2. Access to counselling and treatment
3. Health promotion programs
4. Brief interventions
5. Peer interventions
6. Psychosocial skills training
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The Safety Institute of Australia is the national association for the health and safety profession. Their vision is for safe and healthy workers in productive workplaces, and pursue this vision by working to build the skills, knowledge and capability of the health and safety profession, and being a voice for that profession.
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