Routine testing for illicit and intoxicating substances conducted by companies is leading to the distribution of health and safety best practices and helping to improve workplace performance and safety, says workplace testing company Alco-Safe director Rhys Evans.
Greater exposure to devices used to test the levels of such substances and a better understanding of their accuracy are helping to garner labour-organisation support for workplace safety testing regimes beyond high-risk industries such as mining, transport and aviation.
Labour unions and worker organisations are important in supporting workplace safety testing and act as key interlocutors with employees to raise awareness of the importance of workplace safety, he explains.
“Even smaller companies are instituting workplace testing to ensure that their teams are allowed onto the sites of clients. The involvement of small and medium-sized companies in broad supply chains – often with exacting safety standards, such as for mines and the petrochemicals industries – is leading to a cascade of workplace safety testing best practices.”
Some companies may even blacklist a supplier or service provider if its employees test positive as part of routine sampling and testing. This has led to smaller companies testing their teams before sending them to a client or site, which improves safety and performance, and helps to protect their revenue streams.
Additionally, new tests and testing methods, such as noninvasive saliva tests, are improving support for workplace testing. This is because saliva tests typically have a shorter window of detection, which means that companies can determine whether employees are sober at work, and not detect substances that were used outside the relevant scope.
“The involvement of the unions and labour organisations also reinforces information about workplace testing, the dangers of substance abuse and the importance of workplace safety. Education is key, especially to educate employees about how the tests are not triggered by permissible levels of various substances, such as those present in medication taken at prescribed dosages.”
Evans adds that companies are wary of sharing testing information, owing to potential negative impacts on their reputations, but that widespread workplace testing is leading to stable demand for products and services.
“We are also seeing a broader demand for occupational health and safety testing from our clients in freight and transport throughout Africa.”
Meanwhile, Evans notes that Alco-Safe can also provide longer-window testing products and services, such as hair follicle tests, to help during incident investigations.
“While there may be various perceptions, such as substance abuse in the workplace or employer interference attached to routine testing, the baseline of workplace testing is to ensure health and safety, and improve performance, reliability and productivity at the workplace, as well as lowering absenteeism.”