Alberta firms take part in pilot project for workplace drug, alcohol program

Representatives of Alberta’s energy and construction industries are participating in a Drug and Alcohol Risk Reduction Pilot Project (DARRPP), a two-year initiative to evaluate and report on the effectiveness of comprehensive workplace alcohol and drug programs that will include random workplace testing.
DARRPP is led by a multistakeholder working group with broad representation that includes major oil sands industry employers and labour providers. The project’s mandate is to establish best practices for random workplace alcohol and drug testing for safety sensitive sites and positions, and develop guidelines for processes such as case management, assessment and follow-up. Working from a shared model, participating employers will introduce and monitor random workplace testing programs and share statistics related to their implementation.

Random workplace testing will not begin immediately. Over the summer and early fall, participating companies will be putting appropriate testing systems and processes in place, with implementation of pilot testing programs expected in late 2012 and early 2013. DARRPP will report its findings and recommendations to the participants, government and other stakeholders in 2014, with a goal of recommending a useful industry policy framework based on the results of the pilot.

“Alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace is an unfortunate reality in our society, and it poses serious risks to the individuals involved, their coworkers, families and communities,” says DARRPP administrator Pat Atkins, who has worked with alcohol and drug policies and programs as an oil sands human resources manager for over 25 years. “The addition of this pilot project builds on existing industry programs and policies and represents an important step forward in our approach to improving workplace safety.”

Atkins notes that, along with effective safety training, sound policies and procedures, and disciplined incident reporting, alcohol and drug testing programs in the workplace can lead to measurable improvements in safety.

Random testing has been proven to have a positive impact on workplace and public safety in other jurisdictions.

Since 1995, when the U.S. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) implemented mandatory alcohol and drug testing in the transportation industry, positive tests for employees subjected to random testing have declined by nearly 50 per cent.

A long-term U.S. study of the involvement of alcohol in fatal crashes in the trucking industry concluded that the implementation of random alcohol testing was found to be associated with a 23 per cent reduction in fatal crashes involving large trucks.

Major oil sands and construction industry employers already use pre-site access, reasonable cause and post-incident testing. Atkins says she expects that by monitoring the results of random testing programs of participating Alberta employers, DARRPP will find they are a significant deterrent to alcohol and drug abuse in the workplace.

Atkins says DARRPP participants will balance the need to reduce safety risks with the responsibility to uphold human rights and privacy. “Participating employers will all have alcohol and drug programs that ensure employees who test positive are treated fairly and receive appropriate aftercare if they are dependent. This will have the additional benefit of prompting people who have dependencies to get help.”

During the two years leading up to the project’s launch, DARRPP’s founders solicited input from human rights and privacy agencies and independent experts, including The Alberta Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta, to make sure the pilot addressed social concerns and legal requirements.

"Nothing is more important at a workplace than safety," said Dave Hancock, Minister of Human Services. "I am very impressed with the way in which the energy and construction industries have come together to develop this pilot. Reducing risk and ensuring worker safety in these vital sectors is equally important for both employers and employees and their families.”

DARRPP participants include:

    Building and Construction Trades Canada - AFL-CIO
    Christian Labour Association of Canada
    Canadian Natural Resources Limited
    Construction Labour Relations – Alberta
    Construction Owners Association of Alberta
    Oil Sands Safety Association
    Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
    Suncor Energy, Inc.
    Total E&P Canada