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Revealed: the real costs of workplace drug & alcohol testing.

Mon Oct. 1st 2018

Workplace drug testing is a thorny issue, one which some feel pits the safety of the workplace against the privacy of its employees. Employers, however, have a duty under the law to keep their workplaces safe and many are now turning to regular random drug & alcohol tests, along with incident or 'near miss' tests, to ensure they're meeting those responsibilities.

But aside from legal responsibilities and some awkwardness in discussing testing with staff there is the perennial business issue of cost: just how much will a well-run, discreet, & effective testing policy affect the bottom line?

Urine tests for drug & alcohol can vary but the rates range from $70 to $100+gst per person or at an agreed rate for say 6 or more people per visit. A less invasive saliva test using the latest equipment may start from $125+gst for an individual and then be reduced for an agreed number of persons per site visit. The tester may also add a travel charge, so the costs for a team of workers can quickly add up, especially if the testing is being carried out regularly.

These costs also don't include lab costs associated with confirming failed tests & interpreting the results. All up this could be between $150 - $180+gst on top of the initial screening & testing costs. Testing for multiple substances may incur further charges. Then, when an employee is stood down over a failed test, there's also an HR cost for hiring temporary cover, or paying overtime to other team members to fill the gap.

All of this adds up, fast.

This expense has to be weighed against the likelihood of an accident and the potential consequences which can be huge. But the benefits of a drug testing policy are not just the protection of the business in case of an accident - drug and alcohol use that spills into the workplace affects your employees too. There is a high personal & social cost to the employee from either an accident at one end of the scale, or being stood down because of a failed test at the other.

Cannabis is a relatively common illicit recreational drug in New Zealand and can stay in a person's system for a long time. A simple urine test might provide a non-negative result for THC on a Monday because the employee smoked a joint a week earlier.

But is that person still impaired after taking none since? Showing no signs of impairment at the time of testing but still having a "Non-Negative" result with urine testing can raise questions and doubt. This kind of result can easily happen and can be very costly.

If the employee is stood down immediately there is a big impact on their family (if they're the major breadwinner), a big impact on your team (in terms of their productivity and morale), and substantial costs for the business.

When we test for alcohol in employees, we don't judge them for what they may have been drinking on Friday or Saturday night, we simply measure whether they are impaired at the time of the actual test. Any substance abuse can have a negative effect, and using testing as a part of rehabilitation, education, and the ongoing care for the wellbeing of your staff is far more productive (and cost effective) than a punitive regime.

The latest saliva testing equipment, although it comes with slightly higher testing costs, is an effective tool in managing this sort of workplace drug & alcohol policy, as it allows a more accurate assessment of possible impairment or recent use at the time of the test. Used regularly, such testing can act on the one hand as a deterrent, and on the other as an opportunity for rehabilitation & education among your team.

Everyone should be allowed to work in a safe and positive workplace culture. Choosing the right type of testing and understanding how to apply it in your workplace is the best way of keeping costs low while improving safety.

"Having a living drugs and alcohol policy in your workplace, which includes random drug testing, will show your employees and your customers that you take a proactive approach to their safety and well-being."
Rob Taylor

Create a safe & trusted workplace

Drug and alcohol testing in the workplace needn’t be a scary experience for you and your staff. Instead it can reduce risk to your business, and create a more protective culture that will be valued by employees and customers.

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