History of drug testing – Part 1


Have you ever wondered about the history of drug testing in the workplace? Wonder no more. Over the next couple of weeks, Integrity Sampling will provide you with everything you need to know (and possibly a few facts you didn’t!) about workplace drug testing.

Workplace drug testing

The origins of workplace drug testing started in, where else, but the United States. There are two main incidents that are believed to have led to the start of widespread drug testing in the workplace in that country:

  • In 1981, an accident aboard a US naval ship led to the deaths of 14 soldiers. A further 48 were injured and damage to the ship was in the order of $150 million – a massive cost at the time. Autopsies on those killed discovered that six of the soldiers had cannabis in their system, leading to new policies around drug testing within the United States Department of Defence.
  • In 1987, a set of freight locomotives collided with a passenger train, killing 16 people. The accident occurred because the locomotives failed to stop at a set of signals. It was later determined that the locomotive crew were smoking marijuana and this was the likely reason for them not stopping at the signals and causing the accident.

In the United States today, workplace drug testing is very commonplace, not just in roles where safety is a high focus. Which is why around 70% of employees in the United States undergo drug and alcohol testing, compared to an estimated 15% in Australia.

Workplace drug testing in Australia began in the late 1980s. It’s believed that the NSW State Rail Authority was the first Australian company to conduct workplace drug testing. Other organisations soon followed.

In Australia, workplace drug testing has historically been safety based. That is, its aim is to detect people who may be unsafe to be at work. So, if you work in a role where you operate machinery, drive vehicles, do manual work, or perform any other task that is seen as safety critical, you may have experienced workplace drug testing.

Unlike in the United States, where specific laws on workplace drug testing exist, Australia does not have specific laws relating to drug testing. However, many safety critical industries have enacted their own laws, if you will, in the form of policies and procedures. Industries where policies and procedures on drug and alcohol – and drug testing – are common include aviation, mining, transportation, manufacturing and agriculture.

Next week, we’ll take an historical look at drug testing methods.

Workplace drug testing origins can be traced back to an accident aboard a US Navy vessel in the early 1980s.

Workplace drug testing origins can be traced back to an accident aboard a US Navy vessel in the early 1980s. Credit Robert Orr https://www.flickr.com/photos/27828336@N00/7376658182/

By Michael

Michael is the founder of Integrity Sampling and is responsible for overseeing all national operations. He is based at Integrity Sampling's head office in Melbourne and is also responsible for the co-ordination of drug and alcohol testing within Victoria, assisting in the implementation of drug and alcohol (fit for work) policies and the presentation of drug and alcohol education and awareness programs. You can connect with Michael Wheeldon on LinkedIn

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