Drug testing

Testing for illegal drug use is carried out in some workplaces in Australia, especially blue collar organisations where people may work with heavy machinery, hazardous materials, or play a role in operations.

The reason these tests are conducted is so employers can be sure all of their employees are not only focused and have their minds on the job, but that no one is putting their own safety, or the safety of others, at risk.

While drug testing has not been proven effective across all industries, it has been shown to be a deterrent in industries like transport and logistics, and also helps to ensure greater safety in those working environments that can affect the safety of the public, in addition to employees. It may be even more effective if supported by education aimed at building a drug-free culture.

Here s some quick information that will help you better understand workplace drug testing as an employee.

What can workplaces test for?

Workplace drug tests are generally carried out by a specialist, external agency that can test for a variety of different drugs. Depending on the workplace, unions and agreements with employees, workplace drug tests may indicate use of:

  • Cannabinoids, like marijuana and hash
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines, like speed and methamphetamines
  • Opiates, like heroin, opium, codeine, morphine
  • MDMA (ecstasy)

Other drugs, including prescription drugs, may also be shown on a random drug test, so it s important to not only declare any prescribed drugs you may be taking, but also to follow procedures around what prescribed drugs may be used in your workplaces. For example, you may not be permitted to work your normal job if you re taking a prescribed drug that causes drowsiness.

Is use of synthetic cannabis, such as Kronic , tested?

The Australian Government has introduced a blanket ban on synthetic drugs, including synthetic cannabis products like Kronic , Spice and Kalma . The fact they are illegal, and can cause effects that will impact your work skills and focus, similar to cannabis, means you shouldn t use these drugs, especially before or during work.

Drug testing agencies have been working hard to keep up with new synthetic drugs, and as a result, tests have been developed that indicate use of some of these substances. Development continues to ensure testing is available for as many substances as possible, so use will catch up with you.

How are tests conducted?

Tests are mainly conducted by specialist, external agencies. For most workplaces that test employees, testing is undertaken at frequent intervals, with candidates for testing selected randomly. This random selection means that any employee could be tested, so anyone who has used drugs is at risk of being caught.

Tests are generally undertaken in the form of saliva or urine tests. For a saliva test, after filling in the required paperwork, a candidate will be asked to run a swab down the inside of their mouth to collect saliva. The swab will immediately be stored and labelled and the candidate will often be asked to sign off that the sample is theirs.

For a urine test, a candidate will be asked to provide a sample in a supplied container. Procedures are usually put in place to ensure tests can t be faked, with candidates generally not allowed to flush or wash their hands until the sample is safely in the testing agent s hands. Once testing is complete for the day, the testing agent will take the samples with them, and will then inform the employer and relevant employee of any positive results. If you have used a drug like cannabis prior to your drug test, those days of waiting can be very nerve-racking!

Also worth keeping in mind, especially if you drive for a living, is that police in each state and territory are now conducting roadside drug tests. These saliva tests indicate use of many of the drugs mentioned, including cannabis, and can mean you risk losing both your job and your licence if you get a positive reading.

When will I be tested?

Testing is generally completely random so your number may come up for the next test, or any one of the tests following. The lack of scheduling and routine makes it difficult for people to predict and beat tests.

How long will cannabis stay in my system?

After someone uses cannabis, it is stored in the fatty tissue in their body and then slowly released back into the bloodstream until the body removes it. In urine testing, it is usually the chemical that is produced by the breakdown of cannabis in the body that is being measured. The length of time cannabis use can be detected in the body depends on who is using it and how often they use it.

For a casual/occasional user, use may be detected in the urine for one-to-five days following use. Keep in mind though, everyone s reaction to cannabis is different, so there are no guarantees.

For frequent users those people who use more than three times a week over a few years cannabis use may be detected up to two-to-three months after use or even longer.

It is worthy of note that cannabis can be detected in the system longer than most other drugs.

Is there any way to cheat drug tests?

The random nature of most testing approaches, combined with procedures put in place to minimise people s contact with others, access to personal items and the immediacy of the test following notification of testing, make it very difficult to beat the test. Your best bet for passing is not using drugs!