MEDIA RELEASE 28 July 2014
A drug-safe workplace for local government workers is vital
The increasingly high level of drug use in Australia presents an urgent need for
local government to show leadership and ensure staff is provided with a
drug-safe workplace, according to drug testing expert Michael White.
A recent United Nations report on worldwide drug use showed that, per capita,
Australia has the highest rates of dangerous and illicit drug use in the world.
In effect, Australians are the world's highest users of Ecstasy, Ice and
Cannabis, and many of those drug-using Australians work in local government
The variety of potentially dangerous roles carried out by local government
employees is of significant concern to Michael White, who says that local
governments need to get serious about drugs in the workplace, and develop
procedures and protocols to ensure local government worksites are drug-safe.
"Council workers are driving trucks, operating heavy machinery, in charge of
roadside mowers, bulldozers or forklifts and who are impaired by drugs are not
only putting themselves at risk, but are also seriously endangering their
co-workers and communities around them," said Michael.
Many local governments and councils are now working towards creating a drug-safe
workplace based upon education and workplace screening. So why is this important
to government and council workers, what are the benefits of a drug-safe
workplace, and what does being drug-safe actually mean?
Firstly let's look at some key facts about alcohol and other drugs in the
- 25% of workplace accidents are drug related;
- 10% of workplace deaths are drug related;
- Almost 70% of drug users are in full time employment; and
- 80% of workplace drug-related injuries involve co-workers or bystanders
not drug users.
The use of drugs, even in small amounts can impair performance, judgment,
coordination concentration and alertness. On a worksite this can result in
mistakes, accidents and injuries, damage to workplace equipment, deterioration
in workplace relationships, increased absenteeism and decreased productivity.
Under Occupational Health and Safety laws all government employers have a duty
of care to their employees. The legislation varies from state to state but the
principles remain the same: an employer must provide and maintain a working
environment that is safe without risks to health and safety, as well as monitor
the health and safety of all employees.
Under the same legislation employees must take reasonable care for their own
health and safety and that of others. In effect, that means both employers and
employees should not be affected by drugs or alcohol in a way that puts others
Drugs in the workplace
A working environment can be viewed as a snapshot of the wider community. Drugs
that are consumed recreationally, often at weekends or after work, are more
often than not transported to the workplace, not always knowingly. Many people
think that consuming alcohol or using drugs out of work hours is private
business. Not true, said Michael, when the effects can have profound
ramifications on workplace safety.
"Many illicit drugs have effects that can last for many hours, even days and
although workers can be using alcohol or drugs in private, many are still
turning up to work many hours later impaired by hangovers or with drugs in their
system," said Michael.
The most commonly used of all illicit drugs and subsequently the most commonly
found in work place drug testing is marijuana or cannabis. As a result of
hydroponics and cultivation the potency of today's marijuana far outweighs the
milder version of the 60's and 70's. Today's high powered cannabis is so strong
it can cause psychotic conditions such as paranoid schizophrenia.
With effects lasting in the body up to six hours, cannabis presents a real
danger in the workplace, with a greater risk of accident and injury,
particularly if the employee is operating heavy machinery or driving a vehicle.
Cannabis use also results in loss of energy and interest in employee tasks and
overall poor performance.
Ecstasy is growing in popularity, as it's reasonably easy to produce, cheap to
buy and widely available. Ecstasy is an amphetamine based stimulant or ‘upper'
that works within the user's central nervous system. The short term effects of
amphetamine based drugs include a ‘rush' which includes speeding up of bodily
activities such as heart rate, breathing and blood pressure, the mouth can dry
up, sweating increases and fluid loss can cause severe headaches.
Ecstasy users will feel more energetic and alert, have increased confidence,
reduced appetite and tend to lower their inhibitions or drop their guard. In
some people amphetamines will cause irritability, anxiety, depressive, hostile
and aggressive behaviour. Panic attacks can also occur. Coming down from an
amphetamine high can involve violent behavior, tension, radical mood swings,
depression and total exhaustion. Often the user will display shaking, sweating
and feelings of nausea.
Methamphetamine or Ice has become the biggest concern for the Australian police
forces nationwide. Ice stimulates the senses, increases the libido, over heats
the body, removes any sense of conscience or responsibility, and makes the user
believe that have super strength. Add in paranoia and a tendency towards extreme
violence and it becomes one of the most dangerous drugs available. The most
dangerous effect is that Ice keeps users in this state for three or four days
followed by the worst hangover imaginable. A council worker using Ice is nothing
but a danger to themselves and those working with them.
Alcohol is the most widely used psychoactive or mood changing recreational drug
in Australia, and when mixed with other illicit drugs the results can be
disastrous. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, not a stimulant as
commonly thought. Depending on various circumstances including the amount of
consumed, alcohol can have some seriously debilitating effects including
increased confusion, reduced coordination, slurred speech, poor muscle control,
blurred vision. Heavy consumption of alcohol over time can cause permanent
damage to many parts of the body including impairment of brain and liver
Creating a Drug-Safe Workplace programme
Identifying alcohol and drug use in the workplace as part of an ongoing drug
screening programme is relatively simple.
"There are a variety of screening techniques and processes for testing including
breathalysers for alcohol, and urine or oral fluid sampling for illicit drugs,"
"Workplace drug testing, combined with implementing alcohol and other drugs
policies, developing staff induction processes, training workshops, drug
awareness programmes and management courses, will mean that local government
workplaces and communities can move toward being drug-safe," he said.
"Being a drug-safe work place has benefits for local government employers and
employees alike. Not only are employers fulfilling their legislative
requirements, reducing the cost of absenteeism and ensuring workplace safety,
employees and their families can rest assured that the chance of accident or
injury at work can be significantly reduced," said Michael.
Here are some simple steps to creating a drug-safe workplace:
1. Engage a NATA accredited, on-site organisation that can assist you with a
full spectrum of options and solutions.
2. Ensure you have a good and legally robust alcohol and other drugs policy that
spells out the details in easy to comprehend language.
3. Conduct alcohol and other drug education and awareness workshops where you
can introduce the policies as part of the discussion process.
4. Introduce a new staff and contractor d rug-safe induction process to ensure
that no bad habits can be recruited into the organisation going forward.
5. Train WHS managers or supervisors to conduct alcohol and drug tests as part
of a return to work process for those employees who may have been identified as
drug users and need to take some time off to clean out their systems.
6. Conduct a blanket screen of all employees to establish a base-line to measure
performance and identify hot-spots that need focus. This allows an affordable
sensible random screening schedule that concentrates on the areas of highest
7. Review reports and manage the program over time to ensure the original
objectives are being achieved.
A NSW North Coast council office received reports from colleagues and local
community members that workers were behaving dangerously and erratically. The
incidents were overlooked until a worker drove through a built up area with a
cherry picker in an upright position, bringing down power lines and blacking out
Upon investigation it was found that the crew was cultivating and using
marijuana within their workplace, out of sight of the management.
The GM introduced a Frontline Diagnostics drug-safe workplace programme which
identified 100% drug use within the crew who were stood down until they could
show they were clean and could return to work. After four months of education
workshops, blanket screening and introducing an induction process, the staff
have no drugs at all in their system. Absenteeism and productivity has greatly
improved and there are no longer risks of drug-related accidents.
About Michael White, Managing Director, Frontline Diagnostics
Michael White established Frontline Diagnostics, Australia's largest workplace
drug testing agency, in 1999 to provide Australian industry with a complete
solution for the detection, management and control of alcohol and other drugs in
He regularly speaks to business and professional groups and schools, has
lectured on drugs in transport at the Sydney University, and was the first
person to be commissioned by the Australian Crime Commission to run drug
education workshops for all internal staff around Australia, drawing on his
workplace experience as well and his legal and toxicology knowledge.
Frontline Diagnostics services include complete drug screening and testing with
results analysis and comprehensive reporting; policy development support for
regulating alcohol and other drugs at the workplace; education workshops and
training; purpose-built mobile clinics plus referral to accredited employee
For more information about Frontline Diagnostics visit