17 Oct 2008
Workers in the forest industry – from bosses through to the newest recruits – can expect to become involved in workplace drug and alcohol testing in the next 12 months.
“We are targeting zero fatalities and serious accidents,” says NZ Forest Owners Association president Peter Berg.
“An important part of that involves eliminating drugs and alcohol from the workplace. Data from similar industries both in New Zealand and overseas indicate that around 25% of safety-related incidents are caused by employees affected by drugs and/or alcohol, and it is reasonable to assume the same holds true for forestry.”
The industry’s Drug & Alcohol Code of Practice was [is being] launched today [at midday] by forestry minister Jim Anderton at a function in Gisborne. It builds on a drug & alcohol toolkit that has been used successfully as a basis for drug & alcohol testing by some forest employers for eight years.“As a Code of Practice it sets standards that all forest employers need to comply with if they are to meet their legal obligation to provide their employees with a safe workplace,” Mr Berg says.
“There is now a strong body of case law that supports – and indeed requires – employers to set up drug- and alcohol-free workplace programmes for anyone doing safety-sensitive work. That means everyone working in forestry has to be taking part, apart from those in purely administrative roles.”
He says the Code is part of a comprehensive review by the association of all forestry operating procedures and standards, aimed at getting accidents and fatalities as close to zero as is humanly possible.
Each year, four or five people are killed in the forest industry, down from around 10 a year a decade ago. This, says Berg, represents good progress relative to other industries – especially since the log harvest has increased by 20 per cent in that time.
“Even so, having any level of fatalities is unacceptable,” Mr Berg says. “Also the rate of injury accidents – those serious enough to appear in ACC’s records – is remaining stubbornly high. What we want to see on the accident rate graph is a line that looks like a ski slope – downhill all the way.”
For a workplace drug and alcohol testing programme to be legally valid, the code says employees must be consulted before it is set up. It also advises employers that they must provide drug and alcohol education and rehabilitation services to their staff. For their part, employees have legal duties of ‘obedience’ and ‘reasonable behaviour’ and must give their informed consent to testing procedures once they have been explained to them. This means providing urine specimens and undertaking breath tests before being considered for a job, after a workplace accident, or increasingly – for random tests organised by an independent party.
NZFOA safety committee chair Sheldon Drummond says drug and alcohol-free workplace programmes are now commonplace in safety-sensitive industries.
“As in other industries, some forest industry employers have been reluctant to come on board for fear of breaking the relationship of trust that they have with their employees. But once it is underway, staff are often the strongest supporters of testing.
“Forestry is also about skilled people working hard, using cutting tools and heavy machinery in a team environment. They need to be professional, alert and at the top their game all day, every day. Otherwise they put themselves and their workmates at risk.
“Most staff and contractors are committed to being professional in everything they do. They recognise that this won’t happen if they have workmates who are on drugs, or who drank too much the night before.”
For more information, please contact Peter Berg, tel 021 421 291 or
Sheldon Drummond, tel 021 738 496