Pubdate: Fri, 12 Oct 2012
Source: Fort McMurray Today (CN AB)
Copyright: 2012 Fort McMurray Today


A pilot program that would allow random drug and alcohol testing for 
oilsands workers has angered the union representing more than 3,000 
Suncor employees, claiming the tests violate the rights and dignity 
of workers. However, supporters of the program argue that random 
testing is an effective tool to prevent substance abuse in the 
workplace. Today staff couldn't agree on a single stance, so we 
present them both for readers to decide.

Safety and trust trump undue entitlement

Imagine an airline pilot, ready to take the captain's chair of a 
Boeing 747, refusing to submit to a simple sobriety test. Or an 
on-duty RCMP officer responding to the same request with the 
statement, "That would be an invasion of my privacy." Or perhaps a 
medical surgeon, before heading to the operating room, saying he will 
not provide a clean sample of his own.

We put our lives and personal safety into the hands of professionals 
every day. Some instances are more obvious than others, but 
employers, clients and co-workers alike have the right to look such 
workers in the eye and feel their trust is not misplaced.

Suncor, CNRL, Oil Sands Safety Association, Construction Owners 
Association of Alberta and Total E&P Canada have every right to 
request random drug and alcohol testing for employees working in 
positions that demand special safety measures. It is not about 
discrimination - it is about trust.

Sure, there are arguments about how the drug tests unfairly penalize 
marijuana users over those who use harder drugs. That argument is a 
red herring - it merely indicates more sensitive testing methods 
should be developed. Insisting there is a massive conspiracy to fire 
pot smokers over crack heads is, frankly, something a person would 
say while high.

It would be ideal if all guilty parties were quickly and easily 
identified, so innocent workers did not have to waste a minute or two 
putting their unimpeachable pee in a cup. However, encouraging 
co-workers to narc on each other is more likely to set the scene for 
a special oilsands brand of McCarthyism than it is to create a 
healthy work environment.

An illegal substance is illegal. Period. And while alcohol is legal, 
operating any kind of vehicle with an elevated blood alcohol level is 
illegal. Companies are not obligated to entrust high-risk equipment 
worth millions to people who are breaking the law.

A company implementing random drug and alcohol testing is sending a 
message no different from a police officer standing by the road with 
a radar speed gun. Don't break the rules, and you are free to carry 
on your merry way. Those who are caught are pulled aside for the 
safety of others.

As long as society values the right to work and travel safely, the 
right to imbibe in judgement-altering substances will always be 
limited. Not to mention no person is born with the right to drive a 
vehicle, the right to a certain job, the right to work in the 
oilsands. All are privileges we enjoy after working to acquire and 
maintain the necessary skills. An unwarranted sense of entitlement 
leads to all kinds of evils, from a politician expensing a $16 orange 
juice to taxpayers to a tone-deaf singer thinking she deserves to be 
the next American Idol.

Random drug and alcohol testing for well-paid workers with safety 
responsibilities is not an invasion of privacy. Instead, deceiving an 
employer before operating dangerous, heavy equipment is an invasion 
of trust. Without an accountability system in place to demand that 
trust, society might as well be flying with a drunken pilot, 
protected by an impaired RCMP officer and sliced open by a stoned surgeon.

- - Today staff

Imposing on privacy a slippery slope

Substance abuse in Fort McMurray - from both illegal and legal drugs 
- - is a serious problem that deserves close attention.

Most Canadian cities with a similar-sized population comparable to 
Wood Buffalo do not have the same drug problems that we do. Then 
again, most Canadian cities aren't anticipating an enormous 
population growth, and the problems that come with it.

Unique problems call for unique solutions and drugs are no exception. 
Already, some readers have told us about co-workers visibly 
intoxicated on the job, while others have seen drug transactions 
during working hours.

Outside of work, Fort McMurray's drug-fuelled nightlife has not 
helped its image and perception problem. However, the proposal to 
crack down on drug usage by introducing random testing in the 
oilsands, while well intentioned, is an ill-advised, band-aid solution.

Full disclosure: When I was a teenager, I worked on an assembly line 
in a computer factory and then enlisted in the army's armoured 
branch. I know firsthand that operating sophisticated and dangerous 
machinery while impaired can kill.

The real issue at risk is not drug usage and workplace safety, but 
respect for due process and probable cause in a free and democratic society.

Random drug testing deals with a serious moral and ethical issue, 
namely, is a right to privacy obsolete in the name of improving 
safety and security?

The plan's groundwork has been organized by a coalition of safety 
groups and stakeholders. However, findings will be presented to the 
Government of Alberta, who will use the data as a lens to examine 
workplace safety laws.

If employees working in the oilsands casually allow themselves to be 
searched, with the findings being turned over to the government and 
bureaucracies, why is it less important that any financial 
transactions on site not be monitored as well? Why not telephone 
calls, emails or social media?

Perhaps rooms and recreation areas on camp should have microphones 
and cameras installed as well.

Vital information about drugs - and other social problems, such as 
prostitution or illegal gambling - would easily be obtained and 
decrease crime in the workplace.

We would be outraged at such a proposal. Yet, we casually assume that 
it is acceptable for governments and bureaucrats to monitor personal 
behaviour in the name of safety.

A common argument is that if you have nothing to hide, why object to 
random drug testing? Because quite simply, we have so much to lose: 
our rights to privacy and to not be treated like a criminal.

And if an apathetic populace has so little respect for their own 
privacy and presumed innocence, how can we expect those in authority 
to respect those rights?

Besides, drug testing fails to fix the social situations that 
encourage drug use in the workplace. If an employee is intoxicated 
while working, he or she should be reported immediately. The fact 
that so many readers have told us about employees selling drugs or 
getting high on the job speaks volumes about the workplace.

To be blunt, the employees and employers of those areas should be 
embarrassed that they have allowed their workplace to get that incompetent.

- - Today staff
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom