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Consultation key to curb substance abuse in aged care

Implementing staff drug and alcohol testing is not ‘about catching people’ but giving providers the framework to manage those who are substance dependent, says managing director of The Drug Detection Agency, Bryce Dick.

In his presentation at the recent ACSA conference, titled ‘Drugs & Alcohol in the Workplace’, Dick said the rollout of drug and alcohol policies and education was an instrument that needed to include all in the aged care industry.

He said that measures were tightened after the Quakers Hill fire in 2011 where nurse Roger Dean lit fires in a bid to hide his theft of painkillers from the facility.

Dick said the coroner found there were a number of things that were missed, such as reference checks and gaps during Dean’s employment, and recommended further action.

“There are more deaths in prescribed medicine than illegal or illicit drugs,” Dick said.

He mentioned figures from the ABS showing that substance abusers are four times more likely to be involved in workplace accidents, are responsible for 15 per cent of workforce fatalities and cost around $8 billion in absenteeism and lost productivity.

He said a policy was needed to fit everyone and that extended profiling will help find substance users as 70 per cent of drug users are employed.

He added that testing can’t tell the level of usage but can tell the risk involved in order to identify those in need, and prone to risk factors like sleep deprivation.

“A test can’t determine the level of impairment but can strongly indicate a risk of impairment,” he explained.

“Under WHS/OHS laws the employer and the employee must act to eliminate risks.”

He said gone are the days where mandatory testing was present only in the mining, construction and building sectors.

“We need to provide a safe working environment not just for your staff but for the most vulnerable people in society, and that’s the elderly,” he said. “Drugs are a workplace safety issue. Mines and heavy industry are not the only safety-critical industries.”

Dick said industrial tribunals accept the validity of dismissal or other disciplinary action where drugs are involved.

“Polices need to be clear, understood and reasonable – consultation is the key,” he said.

Methods of testing include oral and breath tests, with urine samples being the most popular as 90 per cent is done in the way of fluid extraction.

However, Dick conceded that some methods may encounter push-backs such as with urine testing, where the participants are monitored, not observed.

Dick said some examples of when testing should be done include during pre-employment checks, when accidents occur, when there is reasonable cause, randomness or returning to work.

Tests screen users for traces of illict drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine and ice.

He said that while results are being checked workers must be removed from the site until lab confirmation clears the subject.

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One comment

  1. All Nursing and professional staff this includes doctors, radiologists cleaners indeed anyone who comes to work in the hospital environment should be drug and alcohol tested before they commence work. Gone should be the days staff cover up for other staff members they work with and who should not be at work. It can double up the load of the staff as they do extra work to cover up for their professional work mates. Time to address an issue that has plagued the nursing profession and not been addressed but covered up.

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