Alcohol and drug testing in the mining industry:
The World Health Organization estimates that the harmful use of alcohol results in 2.5 million deaths each year. That 320 000 young people between the ages of 1 5 – 29 die from alcohol related causes, resulting in 9% of all deaths in that age group, and at least 15.3 million people have drug related disorders.
These are shocking stats, and when you narrow it down further to the workplace, that up to 25% of all workplace accidents and 60% of fatal accidents are associated with alcohol. The US Department of Labour states that up to 47% of industrial injuries are linked to alcohol consumption. It has also been reported that the highest percentage of workers who use alcohol or drugs, come from the mining and construction industries.
Should we be concerned?
Yes, I would say that we should be very concerned. Especially given that the mining industry is considered to be a high hazard work environment. Anybody who has worked as a miner, will understand the risks and dangers of working not only underground, but also above ground on the mines. So to add alcohol or drugs to the equation can and does lead to tragic consequences, not only for those who have been dabbling with illegal substances, but for those unfortunate bystanders who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So despite misgivings by the unions, random drug and alcohol testing for miners is becoming common practice for many mining companies worldwide. The mining industry unfortunately not only has a reputation for its hazardous working conditions, but also for the prevalence of substance abuse amongst its workers.
Whilst doing a bit of research on the subject, I came up with a few frightening stats:
- Alcohol use is the most prevalent form of workplace substance abuse
- Up to 10% of the labour force are classified as heavy drinkers
- 1 in 10 Alberta workers have admitted to using alcohol whist at work
- 20 million Americans are current illicit drug users, and the stats for Canada were not much better
- 15% of Americas currently employed, abuse drugs, and around 8% of the Canadian workforce are current illicit drug users
Given the above stats, it’s no wonder alcohol and drug abuse is a concern for the mining industry, where stringent safety measures have to be in place at all times.
Then to add to the already major problems the industry is facing, the testing of mine workers for drugs is becoming more and more challenging as new substances flood the market. It appears that men between the ages of 18 – 29 are most likely to abuse legal and prescription substances, and there are obviously a lot of 18 – 29 year old men working in the mines. It is becoming more and more difficult to keep up with the ever changing range of substances that are coming onto the market, when testing for drugs.
Then there is the moral issue that needs to be looked at:
If you go to the pub on Friday night and get blind drunk and then report to work on Monday stone cold sober, are you putting your own or anybody else’s lives at risk? No probably not. Or if you smoke a joint over a long weekend, but by the time you go back to work, it is out of your system, are you endangering your life or those around you? The answer here is also probably not.
So the issue remains as to where do you draw the line, in terms of invading employees privacy and keeping safety standards at work up to scratch, and at what level drug and alcohol testing should be enforced.