Kempsey supports alcohol and drug testing

Kempsey Shire Council, located 430 kilometres north of Sydney on the Pacific Highway, has introduced drug and alcohol testing for Council staff to increase employee safety.

Kempsey Shire has a population of over 28,000 people and is part of the Mid North Coast Region, the fastest growing non metropolitan area in New South Wales. With 320 employees, some staff were concerned for their own safety when having to work with people who may have been under the influence of drugs and or alcohol. After approaching management, staff decided that to be fair, everyone from the General Manager down must be susceptible to testing.

The policy was introduced in July 2005 with random urine and breathalyser testing expected to begin in March. Staff have undergone education and awareness training of the new policy and procedures and drug and alcohol awareness training. Kempsey Acting General Manager, Bruce Snape, said there will be four types of testing – random, shows cause, post incident and self testing.

“Random testing will take place every three months on 25 to 30 staff members,” he said. “This means that over a three or four year period everyone will have been tested.” Random tests will be conducted by Frontline Diagnostics who operate out of a mobile van. Council will have no input as to who is tested or where the tests will take place.

“Shows cause testing will also occur when people demonstrate signs that they may be under the influence,” Bruce Snape said. “In this case, staff will be asked to attend a local chemist who has been trained in testing. “Staff may also be required to undergo chemist testing after the event of an accident or injury to determine whether drugs or alcohol were a contributing factor. The final type of testing will be self testing, where staff members may come in after a night out and test themselves to see whether they are in a fit state to work.”

‘False positive tests’ will be sent to Maine Health in Melbourne to confirm the result. On the first breach a warning letter is issued and staff will be sent home with pay. A second breach will attract another warning and staff will be sent home without pay. A third breach will lead to another warning and possibly dismissal. President of the Shires Association of New South Wales, Councillor Col Sullivan, said employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace.

“There is a case to be made for drug and alcohol testing, particularly in high risk jobs such as plant operators who utilise machinery, including cherry pickers near power lines,” he said. “Just as the State Government provides testing in key areas such as train drivers, I’d encourage all Councils where necessary to negotiate similar programs with their staff.”

For further information contact Bruce Snape on (02) 6566 3200.