Q & A
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT DARRPP
Q: How serious are alcohol and drug problems in the energy and construction industries?
A: 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. Despite companies implementing numerous safety measures to reduce alcohol and drug use risks at worksites, it continues to be a significant safety issue.
Q: Random alcohol and drug testing is not a common practice in Canadian workplaces. What has changed to allow companies to conduct the random testing component of this pilot?
A: 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.
Q: Why was DARRPP formed?
A: Following the Alberta legal and human rights policy rulings mentioned above, the Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA) saw a need to clearly define what constitutes a reasonable approach to workplace alcohol and drug testing. After two years of extensive consultation with human rights and privacy agencies and independent experts, COAA and other industry players established DARRPP as an independent, multi-stakeholder group.
Q: Does a mandatory drug test violate a worker’s basic human rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination?
A: Workplace alcohol and drug tests do not violate human rights. The AHRC information sheet states, “it is not the testing that triggers the protection of human rights law. It is the treatment by the employer of employees who are dependent on drugs or alcohol.” If an employee tests positive, employers are required to have a qualified professional evaluate whether he or she has a dependency, and, if so, to provide appropriate treatment to help them recover and return to work.
Q: What happens if a worker tests positive for alcohol or drugs, but is found to not have a dependency?
A: The outcome would depend on his or her specific circumstances, and would be governed by the employer’s policies and practices. In some cases a positive test with no alcohol or drug dependency may result in recommendations for a treatment or education program. In other cases, the employee could face disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.
Q: What kinds of testing will be used?
A: There are many kinds of alcohol and drug tests, including saliva and urine tests. DARRPP provides employers with suggested testing processes and guidelines. Each organization participating in DARRPP will determine what method of testing is appropriate for its work sites.
Q: Who will be tested? Will the pilot be limited to contractors or will it include all employees?
A: Each work site owner will determine safety sensitive jobs that have an elevated level of risk inherent to the position and the working environment. Contractors will conduct testing that is compliant with the Canadian Model, which indicates that where an owner requires random alcohol and drug testing, this must be applicable to all companies and employees at the work site.
Q: Is Alberta the only place where random alcohol and drug testing is being introduced into the workplace?
A: No. 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 October, 2011, in the aftermath of a fatal bus crash that killed a passenger, police charged the driver with criminal negligence causing death and possession of cannabis. One week later, on Oct. 19, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) approved the implementation of random alcohol and drug testing. In a policy update, the TTC stated “While privacy concerns may exist with respect to random testing, it is the position of the TTC staff that the obligation to provide a safe workplace to employees and a safe service to the public outweighs such concerns.”
Q: Why is random testing needed in Alberta’s oil sands and construction industries when employers already use pre-site access, reasonable cause and post-incident testing?
A: Despite a long-term, concerted effort to reduce alcohol and drug-related risks, our current practices are not as effective in identifying at-risk workers as they could be. Voluntary testing programs in our industries, 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.
Q: Is it possible to test positive as a result of secondhand marijuana smoke?
A: Current workplace oral fluid tests for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, do not identify trace amounts in a person’s system, but are keyed to detecting usage within the last 24 hours. Where urine tests are used, cut-offs have been established to eliminate the possibility of detecting second hand smoke. Updated June 20, 2012 If you have a question that’s not answered here, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.