The use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs is a challenge in many industries, including energy and construction. Substances such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine can lead to increased risks on work sites, particularly in safety-sensitive positions such as heavy equipment operators and construction and maintenance trades, where a fleeting moment of inattention or a slow reaction can lead to a tragic outcome.
Alberta’s Drug and Alcohol Risk Reduction Project (DARRPP) is a two-year initiative to evaluate and report on the effectiveness of comprehensive workplace alcohol and drug programs that will include random workplace testing.
DARRPP is led by a multi-stakeholder working group that includes major oil sands industry employers and labour providers. Working from a shared model, participating employers will introduce and monitor random workplace testing programs for safety-sensitive positions and share statistics related to their implementation.
DARRPP participants will balance the need to reduce safety risks with the responsibility to uphold human rights and privacy. Participating employers all have alcohol and drug programs that ensure employees who test positive are treated fairly and receive appropriate aftercare if they are dependent.
DARRPP was officially announced on June 20, 2012. Over the summer and early fall of 2012, participating companies will be putting appropriate testing systems and processes in place, with implementation of pilot testing programs expected in late 2012 and early 2013.
DARRPP will report its findings and recommendations to the participants, government and other stakeholders in 2014, with a goal of recommending a useful industry policy framework based on the results of the pilot.
Despite companies implementing numerous safety measures to reduce alcohol and drug use risks at worksites, it continues to be a significant safety issue. Voluntary testing programs, such as the Rapid Site Access Program, have been successful, with growing participation rates, but they cover only a fraction of the workers in our industries. Reasonable cause testing, which is prompted by supervisors’ observations and interventions, is not sufficient by itself in identifying at-risk employees, despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent over the years on extensive supervisor training. Industry data shows that close to six times more alcohol and drug abuse problems are revealed in substance abuse expert assessments after incidents occur than pre-emptive tests prompted by supervisor observations.
Random testing has been used in the Canadian transportation industry for many years for truck drivers whose routes cross the U.S./Canada border. More recently, random testing is being introduced in the Toronto public transit system.
In 2008 an Alberta Court of Appeal ruling affirmed the right of employers to implement alcohol and drug testing policies. Following the court ruling, the Alberta Human Rights Commission (ARHC) published an Information Sheet that sets out clear principles related to workplace alcohol and drug testing, including random testing. Following the Alberta legal and human rights policy rulings, the Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA) saw a need to clearly define what constitutes a reasonable approach to workplace alcohol and drug testing.
COAA and other industry players established DARRPP as an independent, multi-stakeholder group. During the two years leading up to the project’s launch, DARRPP’s founders solicited input from human rights and privacy agencies and independent experts, including The Alberta Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta, to make sure the pilot addressed social concerns and legal requirements.