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Random Alcohol and Drug Testing: FAQ

Many organizations are expressing an interest in random alcohol and drug testing due to the safety sensitive nature of their workplace combined with a problem with substance use, misuse or abuse. But is it worth the risk? This objective post tries to answer some commonly asked questions from clients about a widely debated issue in Canada.

How many companies in Canada currently have a random testing program?

In addition to commercial motor vehicle drivers that cross the border (for whom random alcohol and drug testing is mandatory under U.S. DOT regulations), random testing has been upheld by the courts in limited (and mainly non-unionized) circumstances. Many companies that have a random testing program in place implemented the program at the request of their U.S. operations. DriverCheck does have clients in the drilling, utilities, shipping, oil and gas, and mining industries that currently randomly select employees for alcohol and drug testing. Selection rates and frequency varies for employers that are not regulated by the DOT.

How do I know if it’s worth the risk for my company?

The overwhelming reason for moving forward with such a program is the identification of an alcohol and/or drug problem either by way of anecdotal evidence based on feedback from supervisors, or high positive alcohol and drug testing rates for post-incident and reasonable cause tests. Whether unionized or not, if you have tried all other measures to curb an alcohol or drug problem in your workplace and you still believe there is a problem, random testing can be a way of raising the bar to address this risk.

Companies that move forward with random testing should focus on building the proper policy and infrastructure to support their goals, including clearly demonstrating that due diligence was carried out in order to justify the introduction of random testing. You must document the rationale for the program and educating workers is important. One of the risks is that your program could be challenged by your workers and that in order to make what may be considered a discriminatory standard acceptable, your company must pass the following tests:

1. The standard you have adopted was adopted for a legitimate work-related purpose that is rationally connected to performance on the job.

2. The standard was adopted with an honest and good faith belief that it was necessary to the fulfillment of that purpose.

3. The standard (random alcohol and/or drug testing) must be necessary to the accomplishment of the purpose (i.e. to reduce high positive alcohol rates and associated safety risks). The employer must show that it is impossible to accommodate the claimant and others negatively affected by the standard without experiencing undue hardship (health and safety concerns, financial loss, etc.).

To introduce random testing, you must be confident that your company can meet these tests.

What parameters should we consider when developing a random program?

  • If the alcohol and/or drug problem is most prevalent at one site, consider limiting the program to that location, or the site where there is the highest safety risk
  • Limit the program to only well-defined safety-sensitive positions
  • Roll out the program a few months after it is announced so your workers have the opportunity to get help for a substance abuse problem or change habits that would jeopardize their job
  • Contract workers may be subject to the program

What feedback and consequences should we be prepared for?

Your best bet is to try to get employees on side with random testing before moving ahead with it – this strategy worked very well for one particular DriverCheck client in the past. Remember to emphasize that if someone tests positive through a random drug test and has a drug or alcohol dependency, your company will fulfill its duty to accommodate, refer the employee for a Substance Abuse Professional Assessment, and guide them through the return to duty process.

Does random testing change behaviours?

Random testing has been an effective deterrent in the transportation industry. Between 1996 and 2010, DriverCheck performed approximately 240,000 random drug tests for DOT-regulated employers in Canada and saw positive rates among drivers fall from 2.3 percent in 1996 to less than 0.5 percent in 2010. That’s a decline of more than 80 percent. With positive rates in the Oil Sands that are often significantly higher than the trucking industry, there is even more opportunity for improvement. The statistics show that random testing is an effective deterrent to alcohol and drug use on the job, and increasingly, more employers are seeing the value in it. By reducing positive rates and thereby mitigating the safety risks, random testing has the potential to reduce the number of accidents and incidents in the workplace. Studies in the past have shown that random alcohol testing alone was correlated with a 14.5% reduction in alcohol involvement among large truck drivers.1

1. Snowden, Cecelia B., Miller, Ted R., Waehrer, Geetha M., Spicer, Rebecca S. Random Alcohol Testing Reduced Alcohol-Involved Fatal Crashes of Drivers of Large Trucks. J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs 68: 634-640, 2007.