Two weeks ago, the Coalition Government introduced changes to the Building Code which will make drug and alcohol testing mandatory on most Commonwealth funded projects.

FWBC will be responsible for monitoring compliance with these changes, which come into effect on October 16, 2015.

The Australian Government spends billions of dollars every year on building and construction projects, and the Building Code sets out the Australian Government’s expected standards for building contractors or building industry participants involved in Commonwealth funded construction projects. As the client, the Government, like any other client, is entitled to set behavioural standards for its sites.

Under the changes to the Building Code, principal contractors must have a comprehensive policy for managing drug and alcohol issues in the workplace, including mandatory testing and a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol.

At a minimum, frequent and periodic drug and alcohol testing of both construction and site office workers should be conducted as follows:

  • Where there are less than 30 workers on site – at least 10 per cent of the workforce per month
  • Where there are between 30 and 100 workers on site – a minimum of five workers per month
  • Where there are more than 100 workers on site – at least 10 workers per month

These changes apply to both new and existing Federal Government projects that meet the financial threshold.

A fitness for work policy is required on projects with the following value:

  • Where the value of the Commonwealth’s contribution to the project is at least $5 million and represents at least 50 per cent of the total construction project value; or
  • Where the Commonwealth’s contribution to the project is at least $10 million.

The fitness for work policy of the principal contractor must require the use of an objective medical testing method to detect the presence of drugs or alcohol in a worker’s system. It must also outline which detection method is to be used on the project and outline the processes in place when a positive test is returned. There is no mandatory form of testing. Urine testing and saliva testing are both permitted.

When a person returns a positive result for any of the substances listed they will be deemed not to be fit for work. Principal contractors must outline in their policy how a person who returns a positive result will be prevented from performing work until they can prove they are fit to return to work, and other processes that will apply in the event of a positive result or deemed positive result (i.e. a failure to submit to a test).

Principal contractors must also outline in their fitness for work policy how workers who attend for work affected by drugs or alcohol will be counselled and assisted, apart from any disciplinary process that might apply.

Whilst drug and alcohol testing is not required on private sites, all building contractors covered by the Building Code must ensure that the management of drugs and alcohol is reflected in their workplace health, safety and rehabilitation management system. This will help to ensure that no person attending a site to perform building work does so under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

FWBC will audit a principal contractor’s fitness for work policy to ensure that the minimum standards for drug and alcohol testing are adequately addressed. FWBC will also audit projects to ensure that the drug and alcohol requirements of the fitness for work policy are being implemented.

Companies or subcontractors found to be in serious breach of the Building Code can be sanctioned. The sanctions may include being banned from working on Commonwealth funded projects. In the first instance, FWBC will be educating building industry participants on the requirements and seeking rectification measures where non-compliance is found. FWBC will continue to monitor all other aspects of the Building Code.