By Meghan Potkins, Calgary Herald
- While most major oil and construction industry employers already employ some form of testing, DARRPP is hoping the pilot project will demonstrate that random testing programs can be a significant deterrent to substance abuse in the workplace.
An independent group set up to study drug screening practices in the energy sector announced Wednesday details of a project that could see thousands of workers subject to random workplace testing as early as this fall.
The Drug and Alcohol Risk Reduction Pilot Project says participating companies will begin the pilot program in late 2012 and 2013.
Suncor Energy, Total E&P Canada and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. are the first to have signed on.
While most major oil companies already use some form of drug screening, DARRPP is hoping to prove that random testing can be a significant deterrent to substance abuse in the workplace.
“We’re still seeing quite a few positive tests. We’re also seeing people coming to work with risky behaviours that aren’t appropriate … and it poses serious risks to the individuals involved, their co-workers, families and communities,” said DARRPP administrator Pat Atkins.
Suncor said it will begin random tests of employees in safety-sensitive jobs beginning in October.
The oil giant has hired substance abuse professionals for its Fort McMurray operations and is preparing to use a third-party service to monitor the testing program.
“We have identified pressing workplace safety concerns in the Wood Buffalo region related to alcohol and drugs,” said a company spokesperson. “(Random testing) is necessary just to make sure that workers go home safely to their families at the end of shift.”
In 2008, the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the right of employers to implement alcohol and drug testing policies.
But civil rights defenders say random tests raise all sorts of difficulties when it comes to the rights and privacy of workers.
Random testing can be considered discriminatory if it isn’t justified, said Linda McKay-Panos of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre.
Even justified testing can pose problems, says McKay-Panos, especially since traditional test methods are not foolproof and innocent workers are occasionally ensnared by inaccurate screening devices.
“It’s inaccurate, invasive and it violates the trust between employers and employees. There must be a different way to address the issue,” she said.
Calgary-based Cenovus Energy says it has a policy of testing employees in safety-sensitive jobs before they are hired.
“But (testing) isn’t randomly done otherwise throughout their employment,” said spokeswoman Rhona DelFrari.
“We do have a zero tolerance for people being under the influence of drugs at work. If anyone is suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol at work, that staff member can be reported to a supervisor and that staff member will be immediately investigated.”
DARRPP says that practices like this are not as effective as they could be at identifying at-risk workers before an accident happens.
The group points to industry data showing that close to six times more alcohol and drug abuse problems are revealed in substance abuse assessments after an incident occurs than in pre-emptive tests prompted by supervisor observations.
But at least those simple observation are less invasive and much less costly, contends labour advocate Gil McGowan.
“It’s an unreasonable invasion of a worker’s privacy, and in many cases we believe these kind of regimes contravene human rights legislation,” said the Alberta Federation of Labour president.
DARRPP represents a group of industry associations and energy and construction sector companies, including: Building and Construction Trades Canada, the Christian Labour Association of Canada, the Oil Sands Safety Association, Construction Labour Relations (Alberta), the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada and the Construction Owners Association of Alberta.
The group says it will release the results of the pilot program in 2014 and that data gathered over the next two years will be used to build a framework for drug screening in the industry.