[b:60537e3e3a]More firms drug testing recruits [/b:60537e3e3a]

25.10.05 4.00pm

Employers are increasingly carrying out pre-employment drug testing of new recruits. Latest figures from Environmental Science and Research (ESR) show the number of workplace tests it carries out continues to rise, reaching 24,000 in 2004/05. That is up from a few thousand tests a year in the late-1990s. Nearly four out of every five of the tests are for pre-employment purposes.

While the number of such tests had risen strongly in the past three years, the proportion of positive returns had remained around 8 per cent, ESR workplace drug testing programme manager Shelli Turner said. Similar figures were reported from the US and England. Mrs Turner said she was aware of cases where employers had a reduction in job seekers after they introduced a pre-employment drug testing policy. Some people were not applying because they knew they would have to undergo a drug test, she said.

At the same time, she had heard that other companies in smaller regional areas were having to look at introducing pre-employment testing - to catch people who were avoiding the big employers because of drug tests. ESR now carried out workplace drug testing for at least 600 clients. Other than the pre-employment testing, about 14 per cent of ESR workplace drug tests are classed as random, with positive returns for 13 per cent of such tests. The difference between the 8 per cent positive test rate in the pre-employment category and the 13 per cent for random testing was "quite significant".

"With pre-employment you usually know you're going to have a test but with random it's unannounced."

Companies carrying out random testing had found it made a significant difference, Mrs Turner said. When random testing started, companies might find a high positive rate but after a year or two that figure dropped.

"There has been a lot of reports back that their accidents have definitely gone down and productivity's gone up. So there's anecdotal evidence that it does seem to be a worthwhile thing to implement."

Random testing became a deterrent but also many companies provided education sessions for staff who then understood why their employer had the testing policy. Many companies also offered counselling and rehabilitation to workers who returned positive tests.

"It's just not getting a positive test and you're down the road. It's very much identifying it and helping people deal with it and usually a lot of them come back to work," she said.

An Employment Court case last year involving Air New Zealand had shown random testing was allowed for safety sensitive jobs.

"It has to be implemented properly and it has to be identified as being for health and safety and that sort of thing," Mrs Turner said. Pre-employment testing also focused on the safety sensitive industries, with transport probably most represented. Other industries using pre-employment testing included forestry, roading, construction and dairy. In the past year cannabis had made up 73 per cent of all positive workplace tests, she said.

"That's trending down a bit but the amphetamines are coming up."