Alcohol Testing

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.

3 Responses to “What are our miners smoking?”

  1. Leslie Peabody

    In Australia we have seen the problem and tried to fix the weed smokers but all it done was send them to harder drugs that dont stay in there system for long ie Speed ,cocaine ,and im sure there is more i dont know .Im for saliva testing it gives a accurate test for the last 24 to 48 hours not only catching the poor old stoners .As a supervisor i would welcome this as a tool to use for cause testing and random testing .These other drugs that people use are a worry ! more than the stoner that smoked last week or on his break .The Police also use it so why not the mining industy ?

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  2. Naun Claros

    When working in a Northern open pit copper mine in Chile under the 7 by 7 shift, often we were tested for alcohol when re entering the industrial site coming back from a nearby small town. Offenders were few and punishment was harsh: to be fired from the job on the spot. The rule kept workers at bay. Some mine administrators face the alcohol drinking problem making available programs focusing on the substance abuse as a health issue, which it is. But this approach is usually for the executives and first in command supervisors in the production line, hardly ever for common workers and never for the majority of the mine workers in Chile, the contractors employees.

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  3. Joe Bittick

    I’ve only been doing this for 40 years so I am still learning, but I feel that there are times when human rights laws should and deserve to be tested. Alcohol and drugs in the workplace can not be tolerated. Companies are required to have alcohol and drug policies by Federal and moral law. I as an employer am required by those same laws to maintain a healthy and safe working environment for all employees. I teach safety equally to all and to all I will monitor equally. We teach all employees that drugs and alcohol on the job is not tolerated. If an employee is caught on the job under the influence of alcohol or drugs they are consciously making the decision to go against a taught policy that effects the lives of their fellow employees. If do not have the right to randomly or under suspicion check for drug or alcohol and discipline according to an understood policy, then we don’t have the right to monitor employees on the job site for safe work habits. I don’t and will never tolerate employees who consciously break safety and/or company policy. If we can’t monitor and discipline for safety let’s go back to the early 1900 when the mine fatality rates were over 6,000 per year.

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