Saliva clue to answer on drugs

INCONSISTENT on-site drug testing across the Australian mining sector has emerged as a contentious issue, with many mines unable to put in place an agreed testing process.
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Angie Tomlinson

CFMEU district union inspector Greg Dalliston said a large number of Queensland longwall mines were unable to get an agreement on a form of testing from the majority of workers and consequently, had no drug testing in place.

 

“Companies are saying they want to be legally defensible and the only legally defensible test is a blood /urine test using gas chromatography,” Dalliston said.

 

“People need to use some common sense and sit down with the information available, such as the legislation, and work out how they are going to do any tests,” he said.

 

The Queensland coal mining legislation does not set out mandatory testing of drugs. However, it does require mines to put in place systems covering education, employer assistance programs, obligation of employees to inform mine site if they are on medication that could impair them and for the mine to keep a list of these people.

 

The CFMEU has endorsed saliva testing as the best form of drug test, favourable over blood and urine methods.

 

“Saliva testing gives you an immediate result on-site, it is not invasive and although it does not give an impairment level, neither does the other forms of testing,” Dalliston said.

 

The saliva process only tests on a period of recent use, only showing a reading if the drug has been ingested in the previous 16 to 24 hours. This gives a better correlation between recent drug consumption, and hence potential effects of impairment due to drugs.

 

Oral fluid replenishes itself within about 10 minutes, which means any saliva diluted by alcohol or mouthwash will be replaced within 10 minutes, making it hard to falsify samples.

 

“Displaying only recent usage means the person may only be asked not to work when they are still impaired, not if they have ingested drugs weeks or months ago,” he said.

 

“In the mining sector we support a full system which includes fatigue management, alcohol testing, drug testing and philological and psychological testing protocols for how to deal with issues.”

 

According to the committee for European road safety drug testing (ROSITA) there is currently not enough research to determine impairment levels, with problems such as tolerance and unreliable correlation between drug concentration and effect to identify impairment levels, rather than detection levels. As a result, the best current approach seems to be a presence of drugs equals impairment.

 

Of late, there had been discussions on developing an Australian Standard for oral fluid based drug testing similar to that in place for urine testing. To date, a decision has not been reached.

 

Dalliston also encouraged an anonymous test where employees supply a sample so the mine could identify the level of problem the mine site has with drug usage. The size of the problem can then be determined and the effort and finance that should be introduced to treat it can be established.

 

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