There is a drug problem in the trucking industry and it’s about time we started taking it seriously. If the trucking industry doesn’t take the bull by the horns, as a whole, then the ongoing public perception of ‘drug crazed truckies’ will continue and the road authorities will be able to retain the right to bag truckies.
We have the tools, drug testing equipment is available to all operators. Now, the Fair Work Commission has ruled on the right of a truck operator to terminate the employment of a truck driver for failing a drug test. In the case on which the decision was upheld, the driver is alleged to have smoked one joint over a weekend before the test took place and proved positive.
The test results showed the driver to have a level of cannabinoids in the bloodstream above 15 ug/L, the permitted threshold. It was decided this was sufficient reason for dismissal after the saliva test proved positive. The driver had previously been made aware of company policies requiring no drug use, which could compromise safety.
Saliva testing has become more common in recent years and a clause covering the issue is often included in employment contracts. The problem is the perception, on the part of the drivers, the words in the contract are the employer covering themselves in case of an incident, rather than genuinely trying to drive drugs out of the industry.
Perhaps we should take something out of the US trucking industry’s ideas about drug taking, where it is also a major issue, especially in the era of a driver shortage. Talking at the ATA Convention a few years ago, Don Osterberg, SVP Safety and Security at US trucking giant Schneider National told us saliva testing was an inexact science.
His company have gone over to hair follicle testing for drugs. This gives the employer a complete picture of the driver’s drug use, traces of drugs remain in the hair sample like age rings in trees, giving evidence of when and what was taken.
If we really are serious about driving drugs out of the industry, then perhaps we should look at developing a scheme, like this, which can be used by the whole industry and get our drivers to clean up their act.
Objections will be raised about the rules of employment impinging on people’s rights to do as they please in their own time. Firstly, it is the safety of the driver and other road users we are talking about here. Secondly, the amount of impairment from weekend drug use can be demonstrated in simulations. Thirdly, the public need to see trucking genuinely throwing drug use out of the industry, if we need their support in getting the kinds of reforms needed to improve life on the road.
If we don’t do something the government of NSW will soon be jumping on the revenue raising bandwagon and denigrating the trucking industry in the media, at the same time. They have announced two new dedicated drug testing vehicles in the state’s West and committed to tripling roadside drug tests up to 97,000 by 2017.