Poll finds stoned staff a growing concern

Getting high before work is common for a wide range of Kiwis – and employers are increasingly doing their own drug testing.

The Global Drug Survey 2014, conducted in partnership with Fairfax Media, found that, of the 5646 New Zealand participants, 13.7 per cent of respondents had in the past year taken drugs, including alcohol, less than two hours before starting work.

A further 13.8 per cent had done so, but not in the past year.

Click here for our interactive drug survey results page.

One industry where illicit drug use was reported to be common was farming.

Warrick Cocker, who works on a small south Wairarapa dairy farm, said he knew of a farm where workers grew their own marijuana, but they got the job done so their boss did not care.

A 29-year-old man, who did not wish to be identified, reported that he showed up to work stoned every day for five years while he worked on farms in Waikato, Canterbury and Southland.

“There’s only three or four people working on a farm, and there’s always been one person who had weed,” he said. “We’d just get real high and do our work. This isn’t like a little bit of weed, this is smoking three or four times, every time we come back to the house for a break.”

He estimated a quarter of all farm workers smoked marijuana and, the further north you went, the more prolific it became. “A lot of my mates would make more money off selling dope than they would working.”

The use of drugs around heavy machinery was dangerous and remained a problem, but more farmers were exploring options about testing their workers, he said.

“I haven’t really heard of it getting into farming yet, but they do think it’s round the corner. There are just too many people getting injured.”

The survey also found prevalent drug use in professional and office-based industries.

A man in his early 20s, who worked at a telemarketing call centre until 2012, said workers were supplied with the ADHD drug Ritalin to keep them focused.

The New Zealand Drug Detection Agency, a private drug testing company, did more than 80,000 urine drug tests in 2013, which was 19 per cent more than the previous year.

But small, remote workplaces, such as farms, cannot afford to have third parties come and test their workers every time they need to, so a new market has grown to enable them to do it themselves.

Advance Diagnostics specialises in educating and equipping workplaces with the knowledge and tools to carry out drug and alcohol screening.

Its operations director, C K Rahi, said interest in its services was growing all the time, especially around saliva screening, which required no qualifications to do.

Environmental Science and Research forensic toxicologist Paul Fitzmaurice said a lot of synthetic cannabis products on the market could not be picked up by any drug testing.

Websites have also been established to give advice to people about how to beat workplace drug tests.

Although testing numbers are increasing, just 13 per cent of the employed respondents in the survey said their current employer exposed them to drug testing.

More than 20 per cent said they would be less inclined to take an offer of employment if the employer used drug testing.

Employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk said those people would have little choice if a workplace had drug testing in its employment agreements.

“From the outset, any employer can make a drug test a condition of employment. If a candidate doesn’t wish to submit to that type of test, they obviously won’t be considered.”

Random testing presented a more contentious problem, she said. “That is lawful, but only in relation to certain roles . . . The test is basically that the roles are safety sensitive where there would be an immediate and direct impact on safety.”

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The Dominion Post