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Substance Abuse Testing and the Workplace

There has been an increasing tendency by employers to try to exercise power over their employees in the form of compulsorily-imposed tests for consumption of alcohol and other drugs.

There are some circumstances in which a genuine need exists to do so. But those circumstances are highly unusual, and many employer initiatives are ill-judged and excessive. Meanwhile, proponents of testing, including technology providers, have made dubious and insufficiently tested claims about its effectiveness, and have made incredible statements to the effect that the enforced extraction of swabs is non-intrusive.

As long ago as 1992, the then NSW Privacy Committee concluded (NSWPC 1992) that "unless specifically authorised by legislation, workplace [substance abuse] testing should only take place when:

  1. a person’s impairment by [a substance] would pose a substantial and demonstrable safety risk to that person or to other people; and
  2. there is reasonable cause to believe that the person to be tested may be impaired by [a substance]; and
  3. the form of [substance abuse] testing to be used is capable of identifying the presence of a [substance] at concentrations which may be capable of causing impairment".

The 20-year delay in the imposition of appropriate regulatory measures cannot be allowed to continue.

APF Policy Statement on Substance Abuse Testing and the Workplace

Foundation Principles

Process Matters

Substance abuse testing must not be imposed unless all of the following pre-conditions have been fulfilled:


Where substance abuse testing is imposed, explicit and clear information must be given to employees in relation to the following matters:


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Created: 7 February 2012 - Last Amended: 31 March 2012 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 11 January 2009
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