Drugs at work: AB initiative to start testing energy sector workers

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Nine Alberta energy and construction companies including Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources Limited and Total E&P are taking part in a two-year pilot to develop effective alcohol and drug testing. The Drug and Alcohol Risk Reduction Pilot Project (DARRPP) includes random drug testing, which will begin later this year.

"Alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace is an unfortunate reality in our society, and it poses serious risks to the individuals involved, their co-workers, families and communities," says DARRPP Administrator Pat Atkins, who has worked with alcohol and drug policies and programs as an oil sands human resources manager for over 25 years. "The addition of this pilot project builds on existing industry programs and policies and represents an important step forward in our approach to improving workplace safety."

Drug testing is controversial in workplaces because while alcohol testing can measure impairment, drug testing can come back positive long after the individual has stopped feeling the effects of the drug. A worker who smokes marijuana on Saturday could test positive the following Monday, but will not still be impaired.

Other Human Rights Commissions have found randomized drug testing without reasonable cause to be illegal, however the Alberta commission 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."

DARRPP's founders say they solicited input from human rights and privacy agencies and independent experts to develop the programme.

The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) has been especially critical of the move.

"Random drug testing shatters our privacy, destroys our dignity, and eliminates trust in our fellow workers and management," says CEP president Dave Coles. "And there is little evidence to link random drug testing results to less substance abuse or a safer workplace.

See also: Think you can test drugged-up employees? Think again…

The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union has a long history of opposing random drug testing in the workplace, including numerous court challenges.  Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear an appeal involving whether a worker's right to privacy is breached by random drug testing at the Irving Pulp & Paper Ltd. kraft paper mill in St. John, New Brunswick.

Suncor spokesperson Sneh Seetal says the company’s “number one priority” is to provide a safe workplace for all employees, contractors and visitors to our site.

“Drugs and alcohol use is an issue that affects the safety of our people and our workplace posing an unacceptable risk on our worksites,” Seetal says. “We have a comprehensive system including safety initiatives, education, training and support for those who need assistance. Random testing is one of the tools we will use to fulfill our commitment to provide a safe workplace.”

The programme starts October 15 and employees were informed of the scheme last week. The company would offer assistance to employees who request it, and it was working with a third party substance abuse provider to make any assessments and provide treatment, Seetal says.

“If recommended by the third party provider, Suncor will pay for 100 per cent of the treatment costs to help the affected employee to deal with their substance abuse problem.”
 

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