Drug testing

Workplace drug testing can be used to screen for a wide variety of drugs that affect driving performance. These include alcohol, illicit drugs and some legal drugs.

Alcohol and drug testing is not compulsory within the heavy vehicle industry. It is up to each individual company to determine if they wish to introduce testing in their workplace. Drivers should be aware however, that if they enter another company’s premises, they may be subjected to that company’s testing regime and alcohol and drug policy.

If you do choose to implement drug testing in the workplace, it is important to include this in your policy. You should specify how and under what circumstances drug testing will be carried out, and what will happen if a positive test occurs. You should also have provisions in place to for employees to travel home safely if a positive test occurs.

For information on dealing with intoxicated persons, see our relevant page

Types of tests

There are 3 types of workplace alcohol and drug tests that are commonly performed in Australia including urine, saliva and breath tests.

Breath testing is only available for alcohol (BAC) testing.

Saliva testing is used to determine if an employee has taken an illegal substance in the recent past (the last couple of days). These are more likely to detect individuals who are still ‘under the influence’ or experiencing ‘come down effects’.

Urine testing can highlight if an individual took a drug in the more distant past. 

Follicle (hair) and blood testing are also available, however these are rarely used in Australian workplaces.

It can take several days to come down after using an illegal drug. The comedown effects that may influence work performance include:

  • poor concentration and lack of focus
  • tiredness
  • headaches
  • irritability and moodiness
  • anxiety and depression
  • paranoia.

What drugs can be detected?

The standard workplace drug test can detect the following drugs:

  • methamphetamines/amphetamines
  • benzodiazepines
  • cocaine
  • codeine and morphine
  • opiates
  • cannabis.

Synthetic cannabis detection

Synthetic cannabis can now be detected through both workplace saliva and urine testing. 

Synthetic cannabis (Kronic, K2, Kaos, Pegasus, Wolf Rage, Hypernova etc) can contain any number of ingredients, most claiming to be herbal. These are still usually illegal (despite what it says on the packet) and can affect work performance, which is why drug testing companies can detect them. 

Currently, synthetic drugs cannot be detected by roadside testing. 

Estimated detection periods

The rate at which a drug leaves the body varies from person to person, based on many different factors. These factors include: 

  • what drug was taken and its strength
  • how much was consumed 
  • how it was taken
  • body size and how efficiently it was processed (metabolism).

Windows of detection by drug type and testing method

Drug Urine Saliva
Alcohol Up to 24 hours                N/A 
Amphetamine and Methyl amphetamine
(Speed and ice) 
Up to 4 days Up to 2 days 
Barbiturates - short acting
Barbiturates - long acting

Up to 4 days
Up to 30 days

(sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication)
Short term use: up to 7 days
Long term use: up to 4-6 weeks
Up to 48 hours
Cocaine Up to 3 days  Up to 2 days 
Codeine (strong prescription pain killers) Up to 3 days Up to 3 days 
Heroin Up to 3 days Up to 2 days
Marijuana/Hash/Cannabis (THC)
Casual user: up to 7 days
Heavy user: up to 30 days 

Up to 24 hours

Methadone (used to treat heroin addiction)  Up to 3 days  Up to 24 hours 
Morphine (strong prescription pain killer)  Up to 3 days  Up to 2 days 

Source: Australasian Medical Review Officers Association (amroa.org.au)

Targeted testing

As long as it is included in your Alcohol and Drug Policy, you may test specific employees, rather than conduct random drug tests. 

While it’s recommended that organisations conduct random testing across the whole organisation, targeted testing is appropriate in some circumstances. 

If an employee returns a positive result, is involved in an accident or works in high risk areas of the business (driving, heavy machinery etc.) targeted testing is appropriate. 

Risks and limitations

Test tampering

Due diligence must be followed between collecting samples and providing samples to a laboratory for testing. 

A 'chain of custody’ form must be completed by the appropriate people including the donor (employee), the collector (on-site tester) and the laboratory analysts.

Testing must be in accordance with Australian Standards:

  • AS4760:2006 - Procedures for specimen collection and the detection and quantitation of drug abuse in oral fluid.
  • AS/NZS 4308:2008 - Procedures for specimen collection and detection and quantitation of drugs of abuse in urine.

Masking agents

There is a belief that masking agents, synthetic urine or water-diluted samples can produce a negative result. However, these can be detected by a professional drug testing company.

Detecting the amount of drug/when it was used

Drug tests can tell how much of a drug is in your blood, saliva or urine at the time that the test was conducted but not how much was initially taken, or when exactly this occurred.  

Limitations to testing 

It is important to recognise that drug testing alone will not keep your workplace safe and that there are limitations to drug testing. These limitations include:

  • not being able to detect all potentially impairing drugs that your employees may be using
  • not being able to indicate if someone is impaired; only that they have recently used
  • lack of visible impairment not being an indicator of lack of drug use
  • not being able to prove if an employee is ‘fit for work’.

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