FWC rejects bid for urine-based workplace drug tests

Endeavour Energy's renewed push to replace oral swabbing with urine tests - as part of its drug and alcohol policy - has been rejected by the Fair Work Commission, despite a national association's recent decision to suspend accreditation of workplace saliva tests.

FWC Senior Deputy President Jonathan Hamberger said it would be "wrong to infer" from the National Association of Testing Authorities' (NATA's) decision that the performance of saliva-testing devices was "suspect", that employers shouldn't use such devices, or that urine testing was the "preferred option".

In 2012, Senior Deputy President Hamberger and a subsequent FWC full bench blocked Endeavour from introducing urine tests under its new drug and alcohol policy, after several unions (CEPU, ASU and APESMA) opposed the move.

The Commission found the NSW employer should adopt saliva tests because they were accurate and more likely to identify workers who were under the influence of cannabis and other drugs at work.

Urine tests could detect cannabis consumed several weeks prior to the test, unfairly allowing an employer to "dictate what drugs or alcohol its employees take in their own time", it found.

But NATA last year withdrew its accreditation of onsite saliva testing due to "technical issues", including concerns about the "stability of some drug classes during the testing process, especially THC [in cannabis]".

In the proceedings at hand, the employer applied for Senior Deputy President Hamberger to "vary" his 2012 ruling to allow it to adopt urine-based drug testing.

It argued that NATA's decision made it "impossible to comply" with the Australian Standard (AS 4760-2006) for collecting and testing oral fluid for prohibited drugs.

But Senior Deputy President Hamberger said the standard didn't explicitly require workplace testing to be conducted by an accredited agency.

"Nothing that has happened since [my] original decision undermines the conclusions made in that decision regarding the appropriateness of using oral fluids rather than urine to detect recent drug use," he said.

Senior Deputy President Hamberger noted that AS 4760-2006 was a "helpful guide concerning the appropriate procedures to be used when it comes to the collection, storage, handling, and dispatch of oral fluid to the laboratory".