Workplace Drug Testing

Jason Ennor, Co-founder and CEO at MyHR
by, Jason Ennor, Co-founder and CEO at MyHR

The issues of drugs at work is a major concern to many employers. But how significant is this problem in New Zealand workplaces?

Quite obviously, nobody wants drugged-out workers operating machinery, driving cars or being part of the employment relationship, any more than we want drunk workers doing the same.

The PM recently made headlines (and was supported by various industry groups) when he commented that employers were struggling to hire Kiwis because too many had failed drug tests. Giving rise to concerns about the level of drug use by New Zealand workers. Yet the numbers don’t support these concerns.

In an article on the RNZ website in February 2017, a drug testing company is quoted as saying: “…the rate of positive tests has remained at about 5 percent…”*

The article continues with a further quote from the company, saying: “…the company is doing more tests and therefore failing more people…”*

The trend is flat.

More failed tests are simply a product of more tests being conducted. The rate of failure, as a proportion of the working population, is the same.

It’s apparent we have an issue with a hardcore 5 out of every 100 workers who can’t stay clean long enough to pass a drug test, meaning they would most likely be unable to stay straight for work.

These 5% are a risk to their fellow workers, the public and themselves. However, this group is not large and, thankfully, not growing. Action should be taken to manage the risk, but this action should be proportional to the size of the problem. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater and assume, based on loose comments by a couple of politicians, that Kiwis can’t get jobs due to rampant drug use.

So where are all these drugged-out applicants coming from that the PM refers to? Are they beneficiaries? Another RNZ article of May this year states: “In the last six months of 2016, more than 18,000 beneficiaries were sent for drug tests and 80 failed.”**

The 80 includes those who didn’t turn up, so it has been assumed that they’re hiding something. Probably a fair enough assumption, but an assumption none-the-less.

That is a failure rate of 0.44%

The article also states: “Over the previous three years, nearly 95,000 beneficiaries were drug tested - and only 450 failed or didn’t turn up.”**

A three-year failure rate of 0.47%.

Once again, essentially a flat-line trend. Clearly the 5% who are failing tests are not made up of beneficiaries.

So, what is to be done?

If you assume one out of every twenty people you will interview for a job will not be fit due to drug taking, this leaves 19 applicants who are clean and therefore need to be screened on objective job criteria.

Use a reputable drug testing company to filter out the small number of bad users, then get back to focussing on a quality robust recruitment process.

Drug use is a wider societal problem. The impact of hard drug use on our society cannot be ignored and sadly some communities appear more afflicted by this than others. However, the numbers do not support that this is a significant workplace problem. Using it as a platform for political point-scoring, or mounting arguments for and against immigration, appears to be disingenuous.

The fact remains industries all over the country are crying out for willing workers. So, if drug use isn’t a significant contributing factor, and certainly not a growing one by the numbers, then what is?

Youth Connections state: “Auckland currently has around 23,000 young people who are not involved in education, employment or training.”*

Even after taking the potential 5% of drug users out of this young population, there remains many thousands of potential employees. Let’s groups like Youth Connections and put more effort into connecting these willing young people with employers.

Once we have properly exhausted the candidate search locally, any shortfall can be managed with a quality targeted immigration policy, rather than panicked reactions to alarmist comments.

It seems our approach to local recruitment is falling short, not due to lack of potential candidates, but in connecting to these candidates or adequately selling the opportunities to them. In my next blog, I will talk about how we might improve this.



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