We know there are industries where testing is mandatory and others where it is imposed as a workplace health and safety standard. Aviation is one industry mandatory testing is a legal requirement. There has been controversy and court cases about workplace drug and alcohol testing. Occupational Health and Safety legislation puts the onus on employers to ensure a safe work environment, one solution has been to implement testing to ensure workers are unaffected and thus safe to work.
Could such testing be extended to the health services?
We are all about public safety and accountability. Nursing governance identifies that drug or alcohol intoxication falls within mandatory notification to the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. It is not unheard of that health staff have been users, even abusers of drugs and alcohol. Blood testing is normal in Emergency departments and are mandatory after a motor vehicle accident so we Nurses are familiar with the whole idea. Occupational Health Nurses are often required to undertake testing in their workplaces. So some of the profession are very up to date on policies and procedures while the rest of us probably feel we have better things to worry about.
Could an employer demand a test if they suspected the health worker was affected?
In workplaces where testing is a routine requirement it is urine or saliva that is tested and procedures are in place to ensure there is no cross contamination, substitution or dilution of specimens. A hard learnt lesson for employers after a couple of court cases is to now ensure workers have agreed to and that it is part of their contract, for such testing.
Legally there have been questions about which type of test is best and arguments about confidentiality and the validity of positive test results actually being able to judge whether competence to perform is in fact affected. It was argued that urine testing was an invasion of privacy as it would reveal drug use for up to a week rather than the immediate capacity of the employee to undertake duties on the day or shift.
The increasing number of calls for testing in many industries it seems is related to the “ice epidemic”. Again the question might be asked whether health service staff are immune from this problem. Would health services implement a zero tolerance policy? Certainly having such a standard in place has allowed for dismissal which might otherwise be argued as unfair. Who would be tested? Those in direct care positions or everyone employed in the service? How often, would it be random or routine? All of these aspects have been part of the controversies that have dogged this issue for the last decade.
If it is reasonable to have such testing for construction workers and shearers let alone miners and aviators it might only be a matter of time before health services get into the act.