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Pre-employment drug testing on the rise in New Zealand

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Pre-employment drug testing is on the rise in New Zealand and the reasons are simple. Employers and HR departments operate …

Pre-employment drug testing is on the rise in New Zealand and the reasons are simple.


Employers and HR departments operate in a deeply competitive environment. Finding, securing and retaining the best staff is challenging. What's more, before and during the employment it's up to HR professionals to make workplaces and workforces as safe, compliant, efficient and productive as possible.


It's a tall order to fulfil, starting an employee on the perfect employment path, but pre-employment tests are a powerful tool to do just that.


This type of testing is a critical tool for working through due diligence on new hires and contractors that will potentially join your team. Pre-employment testing provides a risk assessment of the potential candidate and has the ability to stop drug issues from even entering the workplace.


Employers and managers embrace it because, along with a policy discussion, it details clearly what are acceptable employee behaviours before the first day of work even starts. It lets everyone know, and in no uncertain terms, that improper use of drugs and alcohol will not be tolerated.


An early warning approach helps create a culture of safety and shows prospective employees that the business's drug and alcohol policy is not just a piece of paper, but a set of guiding principles that the company takes very seriously. When expectations are understood and accepted, workplaces improve.


It's important to note that pre-employment testing is focused on identifying persistent drug users that can harm people and the businesses bottom line. It is not about naming and shaming the person who had a few puffs on a joint at a party or a drink after work with mates. It's about identifying long term consistent use which is why hair testing is often used.


While hair testing won't show very-recent usage, it excels at showing a person's habitual and lifestyle usage. It is quick, non-invasive, has an easy collection process and is affordable. Head hair is preferable for this type of testing and only requires about 3.8 centimeters of hair to tell if drugs have been used in the last 90 days. Depending on the length of hair, a hair test can look back as far as a year.


It's imperative to use accredited testers for hair, and any other type, of testing - testers who can follow proper processes to avoid contamination and tampering. DIY kits or non-accredited testers come with the risk of bad results, meaning turning away good hires or letting habitual drug users into your company.


But simply taking a sample isn't where the process ends. Once collected, the hair sample will be sent to an accredited forensic drug testing laboratory for analysis. Results can be completed and reported on within 24 hours. Lab-based analysis identifies a greater number of drugs with high reliability, it delivers the kind of analysis and information that stands up in court.


New Zealand's most prevalent drugs show up in hair tests and include cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamines, ecstasy, cannabis, and opiates including prescription medications like Benzodiazepines which are legitimately GP prescribed but may come with side-effects that can impair judgement and cause serious accidents.


Opioids can be harder to detect using standard testing devices but accredited testing agencies, like TDDA, offer an extended opiate panel. A state-of-the art drug testing laboratory can and will discover up to 18 different types of opioids such as heroin or abused prescription drugs like 'Oxy'.


While some disagree with the pre-employment testing process citing ethical issues such as an invasion of privacy, that results are unrelated to job performance, or that results fail to differentiate between impairment at work and recreationally - you'll find little disagreement among employers.


It goes without saying that no employer wants a drunk or high person operating a vehicle or heavy machinery.


The good news is the benefits of a pre-employment testing programme aren't isolated to the safety sensitive sector. Management teams in law firms, accountancies, and investment banks are growing increasingly aware that this is an effective way to prevent brand or reputational damage.


At its core, pre-employment drug testing is about basic risk mitigation and demonstrates that a company is aware, serious, and health and safety compliant about the issue of drugs in the workplace.


Good policies, education and early, accredited testing, go a long way towards protecting employees and safeguarding a company's reputation. Doing this at the interview stage is the key to preventing drug problems as well as keeping a happy and health staff.






Kirk Hardy is CEO of The Drug Detection Agency (TDDA). TDDA has ISO15189:2012 accreditation for workplace drug testing (see NATA and IANZ websites for further detail).  TDDA is considered to be a leader in its field with more than 50 locations throughout Australasia.










While hair testing won't show very-recent drug usage, it shows a person's habitual and lifestyle usage

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