The Central Hawke's Bay District Council is reviewing its health and safety policy and looking to adopt random alcohol and drug testing for all staff.

The practice would be additional to testing pre-employment and in cases where there was deemed reasonable cause.

Currently in draft form, the final policy would be presented this month and includes a new provision to conduct pre-employment drug and alcohol testing as well as random testing for all staff, not just those working in risky areas, said chief executive Monique Davidson.

Over the past year of health and safety reporting to the council, there had been no serious health and safety incidents recorded involving council staff, but Davidson said the policy was needed in terms of following best practice and ensuring health and safety was a priority.

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"As a local authority that spends public money, it is crucial we are putting appropriate checks and balances in place to reduce the potential risk of accident and harm to occur in the workplace.

"This policy reflects best practice and supports the outcomes of Central Hawke's Bay District Council's health and safety strategy."

Random drug testing to be introduced for all employees of the Central Hawke's Bay District Council. Photo/file
Random drug testing to be introduced for all employees of the Central Hawke's Bay District Council. Photo/file

She said her view was that all staff had some form of sensitivity attached to their role, including those with desk jobs.

"An outdoor role is no more safety sensitive than an indoor role."

The council employed 70 staff who would be subject to the policy, while contractors it employed were subject to their own company's health and safety policies, she said.

The new policy would mean prospective employees would be tested and required to return a negative test if their application was successful.

The draft policy stated that random testing could be conducted at management's discretion, and that reasonable cause to conduct a test could include red eyes, a presence of drug or alcohol smell, drowsiness or violent behaviour and slurred speech.

Testing could also be conducted after a near-miss incident or accident and employees being considered for a promotion or a transfer to a new role may also be requested to undergo screening.

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Among the other Hawke's Bay councils random alcohol and drug testing policies were rare.

A Wairoa Council spokesperson said they did not have a policy because they did not currently conduct random drug testing on staff.

At Hawke's Bay Regional Council chief executive James Palmer said there was no random drug testing policy for staff.

"We have not had cause to explore such a policy, given our high level of adherence to health and safety and low accident and injury rate. We have a strong health and safety culture in our works group and throughout the wider organisation."

Similarly the Hastings District Council did not use random drug testing, a spokesperson said.

"It does undertake pre-employment drug and alcohol testing for applicants being considered for at-risk roles; and may undertake drug and alcohol testing given reasonable cause, such as in the case of an accident."

A Napier City Council spokesperson said they did have an internal drug and alcohol policy for staff, which contained guidelines and advice and explained that all council staff may be required to take a test on pre-employment, randomly, with reasonable cause, or post-incident.

"Our priority is always maintaining safety and lowering risk and the possibility of hazards in and around the city."

Although Napier was the only other council to conduct random testing, Davidson said it was not appropriate to compare what was happening at Central Hawke's Bay with other councils.

"At the end of the day it's a draft policy that has not been signed off yet, but this is about industry standards.

"I do not apologise for that - it's my duty to make sure all forms of health and safety are considered and this is one of them.

"I do not want to be compared to other councils in Hawke's Bay as this doesn't necessarily reflect what is happening around New Zealand where random drug testing is common among councils."

Davidson said she and the council's leadership team had sought staff feedback and were currently considering the draft policy, with the final version and any amendments to be presented this month.

A Public Service Association spokesperson said drug testing was a significant intrusion into a person's privacy and the courts in New Zealand had held that random tests were only appropriate in safety-sensitive areas.

"The law gives a specific meaning to 'safety-sensitive' as an area or role where impairment by drugs or alcohol poses a significant risk of serious harm.

"It is a high standard, and it requires consultation with employees."

Hawke's Bay employment lawyer Jol Bates said random testing of employees was a vexed issue and leading case law suggested that if random testing was to be imposed beyond those engaged in safety-sensitive activities it would be necessary to have the agreement or consultation with the union and/or employees.

He noted that employees were within their rights to refuse to be tested, but this could be construed as not following reasonable and lawful instruction.