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Managing the drug 'ice' in rural workplaces

Use of the drug ‘ice’ – or crystal methamphetamine – has attracted a fair bit of attention over the past two years. Some call it an epidemic in rural and regional Australia.

Others say it’s out there, but no more an issue in rural industries than anywhere else.

Whether it’s a problem large or small, it’s an issue that Australian agriculture needs to get a handle on, because it’s a tricky problem to manage, and it puts farmers, contractors and their employees in a position of serious risk.

What makes rural workplaces so great – their place on the land – also means workplace issues can be harder to manage. Sending someone home because they are in no condition to work isn’t always an option, especially if it means telling them to get in their car and drive away, or calling someone to come and get them from far away. The risk of an accident on the long trip home is too great. It puts others in danger, and increases the risk of prosecution under work health and safety law, with all the costs and stress that involves.

Taking a firm stance on drug use at work is vital, but it has to be done in the right way. Confronting someone who is not thinking straight can be especially challenging if there is a risk the person will react violently. This makes understanding how to manage drugs in the workplace absolutely vital for every farmer in every corner of the country.

Many industries have tackled the drug and alcohol challenge head on – often through years of hard fought enterprise bargaining negotiations. As societal expectations have evolved, so too has the focus of farm businesses on lifting workplace standards. How to do this depends on the particular workplace, and depends on the options available. For many, drug testing may be an option, while for others, it may not.

In the wool industry, a group of industry stakeholders (including farmers, unions and shearing contractors) are working to deliver a drug and alcohol policy that can be used to manage these issues in a practical and fair way. The policy will help employees understand exactly what is expected from them at work and their role in keeping themselves and those around them safe.

While drug and alcohol policies won’t solve every problem, they will help reduce misunderstandings that can lead to tension in the workplace. They can also play a role in educating industry about how best to manage difficult issues like drug addiction in the workplace context. Education is a vital tool for improving workplace health and safety, because the more employers and employees understand the nature of the problem, the easier it is for them to implement agreed processes to address it.

A summit to discuss drugs and alcohol in the shearing industry, and to provide input into the workplace policy under development, will be held on 24 May 2017 in Adelaide. Will you be there?   

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