For high risk and hard working industries such as mining, alcohol or drug use in the workplace puts businesses out of pocket and can seriously increase the threat of injury.

By Cameron Drummond

FOR high risk and hard working industries such as mining, alcohol or drug use in the workplace puts businesses out of pocket and can seriously increase the threat of injury.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) claims that most alcohol or drug (AOD) users are employed; all the more reason to address illicit substance use in the work place. While the majority of Australians don’t use drugs or alcohol at work, nearly 20 per cent of lost productivity costs in Australia are directly related to AOD use.

Mining industry employees are one of the most likely groups to drink at levels that increase short and long-term risks of alcohol-related disease or injury. It impacts on the risk of workplace accidents and injury, absenteeism, higher staff turnover and reduced productivity, according to National Drug Research Institute associate professor Nicole Lee.

A secondary analysis of The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey of 12,196 people was undertaken and found that an estimated 2.5 million days of work were lost due to alcohol or drug (AOD) use in Australia in 2013, at a cost of more than $680 million. Perhaps more alarming, the estimated figure for non-reported injury and illness was 11.5 million days at a total cost of $3 billion.

Survey participants self-reported missing a total of 1.7m days due to alcohol, while 854,497 days were taken off due to drug use. Australian Drug Foundation (ADF) Workplace Services national manager Natasha Jager said that 8.7 per cent of workers reported drinking in the workplace and 6 per cent reported working under the influence of alcohol.

It’s estimated that alcohol contributes to around 5 per cent of all Australian workplace deaths, and up to 11 per cent of all Australian workplace injuries. The ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude is prevalent in the resources industry as many workers think they deserve a drink at the end of the day due to tough working conditions, Ms Jager said.

“Many companies believe if they don’t have a beer fridge in the lunch room then they aren’t at risk of alcohol related harm,” Ms Jager said. “However, we know people’s use of alcohol and drugs after work or on weekends is having a direct effect on their performance at work, assuming they turn up for work. “Even though you may not have any alcohol or drugs in your system, workplace safety can be compromised for much longer. “Drugs like ecstasy and ice can take days to recover from; even if you don’t have any drugs in your system the come down or hangover effect still impacts safety.”



The availability of ‘ice’ has increased according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.


In 2014, the WA drug squad raided a Fortescue Metals mine after a sub-contractor was found with $25,000 in cash and drugs in his company-sponsored accommodation in Port Hedland. Then in 2015, BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA), operators of the Goonyella Riverside mine in the Bowen Basin, QLD, discovered an ice pipe in the cab of a 300-tonne haul truck; triggering a call for increased drug testing at mine sites.

BMA’s subsequent campaign to stop the growing use of methamphetamine or ice by workers at Goonyella Riverside was successful enough to warrant expanded drug-testing regimes at other identified hot spots in the Bowen Basin. BMA confirmed 20 cases in the nine months it was using mandatory urine testing to identify illicit drug use, the majority involving ice or cocaine.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) lost a QLD Supreme Court battle in April this year when it contested that criteria for assessment for drug testing of workers at the mine were not lawfully established. This allowed BMA to continue its change from swab testing to urine testing of illicit drugs. The use, treatment and availability of ‘ice’ – the crystal form of methylamphetamine – have increased, according to an October 2015 report released by AIHW.

The report, Trends in methylamphetamine availability, use and treatment 2003-04 to 2013-14, showed that the number of new methamphetamine users who mainly use ‘ice’ had increased. “The proportion of new meth/amphetamine users opting for ‘ice’, rather than other forms of the drug (for example powder), increased from 26 per cent in 2007, to 43 per cent in 2013,” AIHW spokesperson Geoff Neideck said.

Associate Professor Lee said workers in the mining and related industries had a higher rate of use of some drugs than the general population. “One study showed that 3.2 per cent of mining workers and 5.2 per cent of construction workers reported recent use of methamphetamine compared to the general population rate of 2 per cent. “Other high risks groups for drug use are trades and technical workers and young men aged 20-29 years. “In addition, workplace factors such as shift work, long working hours, fast paced work, FIFO/DIDO work are associated with increased drug use, partly through increased stress on the worker.”


Pee Test Cup with Hand In Glove Holding it Isolated on White Background.

Education programs have proven to be effective in ensuring awareness of a company’s AOD policy.


In 2007, the AIHW estimated that between 5 and 9 per cent of working adults used alcohol at or just before work, potentially affecting their work performance and translating to a significant cost to business in associated workplace injuries or absenteeism. Associate professor Lee’s 2014 paper A Systematic Review of Alcohol Interventions Among Workers in Male-Dominated Industries agreed through a number of studies that alcohol screening, secondary prevention, and low-intensity intervention activities may be effective for those identified as risky drinkers.

Studies of male-dominated industries (MDI), while only taking into account half the population, have relevance when it comes to alcohol use in the workplace. According to the report, an MDI is classified as any industry with a 70 per cent or more male workforce, which includes construction, manufacturing, transport and agriculture as well as mining.

Mining was the second largest MDI with an 82.6 per cent male population in 2011, according to an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey. Surveying only the MDI’s, interventions that appeared to be effective for alcohol included screening for risky alcohol use targeted at high-volume drinkers and peer-based workplace interventions to change attitudes toward drinking by staff and management. However, health and well-being promotion activities and alcohol testing, which were examined in a number of studies, did not appear to have an impact on drinking rates.

Associate professor Lee concluded that further research in identifying effective interventions to address alcohol use in the workplace were needed, both at the individual and workplace level. It was suggested that if employers implement policies addressing the risk of alcohol use in the workplace; develop screening interventions that directly address attitudes toward drinking, as well as counselling, health and safety can be improved in the workplace.


Prevention, not just detection, is key to helping reduce workplace alcohol and drug abuse.

Detection and Prevention

Three types of workplace alcohol and drug tests are commonly performed in Australian workplaces; urine, saliva and breath. Follicle (hair) and blood testing is available, however rarely used within Australian workplaces due to the expense.

In October 2015, the Australian Government amended its fitness-for-work policy to include alcohol and drug screening for all contractors at government funded construction sites. The rule applied to all new and existing projects where the Commonwealth has contributed at least $5 million and 50 per cent of the project, or at least $10 million toward the project.

Research by the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) at Flinders University said workplace drug testing was effective if combined with a comprehensive policy approach that incorporated education and training. Associate professor Lee said that addressing drug use in the workplace was important, but one of the most common errors workplaces made was placing too much focus on drug and alcohol use – and therefore drug testing – rather than on impairment and fitness for work.

The ADF outlined a range of signs that someone might be misusing alcohol and/or drugs, such as frequent absences or changes in work performance; unexplained mood swings or violence; patterns of lateness (late to work or meetings, missing deadlines etc) and a neglect of personal grooming. “Drug testing isn’t the silver bullet to solve workplace problems and keep everyone safe. Those organisations considering implementing testing should make drug testing part of an organisation wide strategy to support a safe culture, as opposed to using testing to tick a box,” Ms Jager said.

“Supervisors need to focus on the person, not the drug and should be concerned with the behaviour the employee is displaying in the workplace. “Just because a worker is tired on Monday morning doesn’t mean they have been partying all weekend, they might have a young child who is sick at home and they didn’t get any sleep – they may be not fit for work because they are fatigued, but it isn’t necessarily because of their alcohol or drug misuse.”

The ADF said education programs have proven to be effective in ensuring worker awareness of an organisation’s AOD policy and expected behaviour. Alcohol and other drug awareness and education programs can contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of employees with the provision of regular, ongoing and adaptable employee education playing a central role in supporting change. AIHW concluded that AOD-related absenteeism represented a significant and preventable impost upon Australian businesses, advising workplaces to implement evidence-based interventions to promote healthy employee behaviour and reduce absenteeism.