Labour criticism follows news of random drug tests for oilpatch workers

Testing ineffective and invades privacy, says labour federation boss

Alberta labour advocates say random drug testing in the oilpatch isn't the answer to making workers safer.

Criticism of the tests followed the announcement Wednesday that three major oil companies will begin random drug screening of workers as part of an industry pilot project this fall.

Oil giants Suncor Energy, Total E&P Canada and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. have all signed onto the Drug and Alcohol Risk Reduction Pilot Project, set to begin this fall.

While most oil companies already use some form of screening, DARRPP hopes to prove that random testing will significantly deter substance abuse in the workplace.

But according to some labour experts, random tests are not necessarily the best method for determining impairment.

"Drug tests, particularly pee tests, typically test for the presence of residue of previous or prior substance use, but that doesn't necessarily mean you are presently impaired," said the Athabasca University professor.

"And if it is not an effective way to determine present impairment, then what purpose does it serve other than to invade the privacy of employees?"

Alberta Federation of Labour boss Gil McGowan said he worries the measures are too heavy-handed.

"It's rare for workers to be under the influence of intoxicants in the workplace," said McGowan.

"This kind of testing is a gross overreaction. By their very nature, random tests are designed to sweep thousands of innocent workers into the net in the hopes of finding one or two under the influence."

But one of the top occupational drug testing services in the country says the new measures aren't all that drastic.

"This is certainly not anything new and drug and alcohol testing is very frequently done before anybody can get on site," said Peter Deines of Cannamm Occupational Testing Services.

Workers are tested routinely before accessing the site, whenever an employer has reasonable cause to be suspicious of substance abuse, and after any incidents, says Deines.

He said testing is not meant to be a 'witch hunt' and that all tests allow for a small amount of drugs in an individual's system to account for passive, or "indirect" exposure, such as second hand marijuana smoke.

"It's not a witch hunt. It's to determine the safety risk," he said.

News of the pilot project spread quickly in Alberta's bitumen capital.

A Fort McMurray DJ who posted a fake ad online offering tricks to cheat on drug tests said he's 'shocked' by the number of response the ad received.

Chris Byrne said the ad was viewed more than 50 times and that he received a dozen e-mail responses in under a day.

"I just wanted to see what the reaction would be," said the Rock 97.9 radio announcer. "I was shocked over the number of people who sent me an e-mail."

Byrne said responses to the ad ranged from curiosity over what was being offered to the logistics of how to obtain a "clean" urine sample.

But he added that most McMurrayites seem comfortable with the idea of random testing.

"People on site know that any incident that happens, they have to go for a drug test," said Byrne.

"I was kind of surprised at the number of people that weren't taking offence to the drug testing but were saying 'yeah this should be done'," said Byrne. "It was more like, 'let's try to make it safer'."

Calgary Herald, Fri Jun 22 2012
Byline: Meghan Potkins

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