EDMONTON (Canadian OH&S News)
A group of employers, labour associations and unions in Alberta have joined forces to participate in a two-year initiative to evaluate and report on the effectiveness of comprehensive workplace drug and alcohol programs, including random testing.
The Drug and Alcohol Risk Reduction Pilot Project (DARRPP) was announced on June 20 with a mandate to establish best practices for random alcohol and drug testing for safety-sensitive work sites and positions, as well as to develop guidelines for processes such as case management, assessment and follow-up, says a statement from the group.
Three major oil and gas companies — Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Suncor Energy, Inc and Total E&P Canada — and a handful of safety associations, such as the Construction Owners Association of Alberta, have already announced their intention to participate in the project.
Over the summer and early fall, participating companies will put 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 participants, government and other stakeholders in 2014.
“We think random testing has been proven to reduce incidents and save lives and we think it is a good thing. We’re not sure what will happen in other jurisdictions, but in our environment and our industry, we think this is necessary and important,” says DARRPP administrator Pat Atkins, adding that it is expected workers would be tested about once every two years.
“We didn’t want to sit back and wait for that horrible catastrophic incident to happen to say, ‘See, we should have done random testing.’ It just doesn’t seem right for a small number of people to put other people’s lives at risk,” she says.
Atkins says each company is in the process of reviewing their worksites and determining which personnel and sites are considered safety-sensitive. “Some are determining that their whole sites are safety-sensitive,” she says, adding that workers such as crane and heavy hauler operators could be considered safety-sensitive positions.
But Linda McKay-Panos, the executive director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre in Calgary, says that there could be some concerns over what is deemed safety-sensitive. “How do you decide what is safety and what isn’t safety? Is it physical safety or other kinds of safety?” she asks.
Privacy, human rights concerns raised
“If you’re operating heavy equipment, you don’t want to be impaired, but there are others where it is not as clear that is really a safety-sensitive job. It should really be a legally justifiable decision that the risk of harm overrides the privacy concerns of the individuals involved,” McKay-Panos says.
Atkins notes that the group has been careful to consult with experts, including the provincial privacy and human rights commissions, “to ensure we’ve got it right and are handling those things appropriately.”
In addition to privacy concerns, McKay-Panos says that “this whole idea of who the employer is has come up,” citing a case in which a site operator who was not the employer decided to impose a random drug test.
She says she is also concerned about the accuracy of some tests. “They have to keep in mind that these tests are not foolproof and that they have to be done [so that] if somebody comes back positive, there needs to be a follow-up test or something more to make sure they are not getting a false positive.”
Atkins notes that as far back as 2009 a working group was set up to consult with government and stakeholders, resulting in a testing framework and a year-long privacy assessment. “If the results of this are what we expect — improved safety, a deterrent, fewer people testing positive at work, fewer after-incidents and lot of people getting help — we hope that that will reassure people who have doubts that this is the right thing to do.”