Federal Court cleared the way for drug and alcohol testing of workers

The Federal Court supported an employer’s right to subject workers to mandatory drug and alcohol tests, saying this will help accomplish workplace health and safety obligations.

According to The Australian, the court on Friday ruled against the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union which was against the tests.

“It seems clear enough that mandatory testing is a surer method of determining who is affected by alcohol and therefore who is at risk (of injuring himself or others) than relying on self-identification or the inclination of one worker to inform on another,” said judges Anna Katzmann and Robert Buchanan in their judgement.

“Every employer also owes a duty of care to its employees to take reasonable care for their safety.”

CFMEU appealed against a Fair Work Australia decision which said there was nothing in a collective agreement which prevents an engineering contractor from subjecting its workers to random drug and alcohol testing.

“The risks to employee safety posed by drug and alcohol use have long been recognised by this tribunal and compulsory drug and alcohol testing is, of itself, not so extraordinary that it could not be argued to be a reasonable employer instruction,” states the FWA decision.

SmartCompany reported on Friday that the Federal Court decision was welcomed by business groups, including the Australian Industry Group.

“It is vital that employers be permitted to implement fair and reasonable safety policies in hazardous work environments which are aimed at protecting workers, members of the public and other persons, like the policy implemented by Thiess and its subcontractors on the Tulla Sydney Alliance Project,” said AIG chief executive Innes Willox in a statement.

“In hazardous work environments nowadays, there is a wide acceptance in Australia and overseas that an appropriately structured and implemented alcohol and drug testing regime is an important and reasonable control mechanism to address the substantial risk of employees working while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

Dan Murphy of CFMEU, told SmartCompany that if employers were serious about impairment of workers and the risks to health and safety, they would address other causes and not just drugs and alcohol.

“The selective interest of companies like Thiess in worker impairment shows they are not genuine,” said Mr Murphy.

“If the issue was addressed in a holistic way and they had to also consider the risks to safety caused by fatigue arising from working regular 12 and 14 hours shifts, they would soon lose interest in the matter.”

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