Last September, the Australian government introduced higher workplace safety standards for construction sites by requiring building contractors on projects funded by the Australian Government to manage the risks of drug and alcohol impairment. These requirements are contained in the Building Code 2013.

To help ensure that no person attends work under the influence of drugs or alcohol, all building contractors covered by the Building Code are now required to ensure their workplace health, safety and rehabilitation system reflects how they will manage drugs and alcohol in the workplace. As part of the changes, all construction projects that have at least $5 million of Commonwealth funding* are also required to have a fitness for work policy that includes drug and alcohol testing for those on site undertaking building work.

Fair Work Building & Construction, the regulator responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged breaches of workplace laws, implemented a three-stage compliance approach following the new requirements commencing in October 2015. Initially, FWBC focused on education to industry on the new policy. The second phase involved reviewing policies with a view to providing feedback on compliance with the policy and assisting with voluntary rectification. This phase of the process has been well-received by industry, with contractors and industry associations working collaboratively with FWBC to ensure their proposed fitness for work policies are compliant with the requirements of the Building Code.

From February 1, 2016, FWBC commenced auditing contractors’ fitness for work policies to assess the practical implementation of drug and alcohol testing onsite.

The audits examine whether the policy is being implemented in accordance with the requirements of the Building Code.  This includes, but is not limited to, requiring evidence that demonstrates:

  • testing is being undertaken on a random basis
  • testing is being undertaken at least monthly
  • testing is being conducted on the minimum number of required personnel (10 per cent except on larger projects)
  • that the required substances are being tested for
  • testing is being conducted using an objective medical testing method
  • testing is being conducted by the head contractor and not being pushed down to the sub-contractors

Investigators will also take a copy of the fitness for work policy and will check the substance of the plan against the requirements of the Building Code. After analysis of documentation and any interviews undertaken during the site audit, FWBC investigators will write to the company with the audit outcome.

In the event that issues/breaches are identified, correspondence will be sent to the company outlining the issues or alleged breaches and seeking the company’s response with an opportunity (where possible) for the matter to be rectified. It should be noted that on some occasions, breaches that are considered to be of a serious nature cannot be voluntarily rectified.

FWBC has been working collaboratively with industry to ensure contractors are aware of their rights and obligations in relation to drug and alcohol testing on sites. This helps to ensure that no person attending the site to perform building work does so under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

Contractors can contact FWBC with specific questions regarding their fitness for work policy. However, to be deemed compliant, the testing regime onsite must also reflect the requirements of the Building Code and contractors must keep records that demonstrate their compliance.