Testing backed up by educational programmes is a tried and tested method, proven to reduce alcohol-related incidents, drive down absenteeism and improve overall productivity in the mining sector, alcohol detection technology and services provider Alco-Safe director Rhys Evans tells Mining Weekly.
“It is simply something that mines should be doing as good practice, especially given that mines can be audited at random and may face immediate shutdown if alcohol testing is not taking place.”
From a legal standpoint, mines cannot afford not to conduct daily testing, owing to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Mine Health and Safety Council – which specifically prohibit the entry of intoxicated individuals into a mining site or premises, says Evans.
“These bodies conduct random audits and, if found not to be practising testing for alcohol, mines can be shut down until such testing is resumed on site, costing millions in lost production.”
Legislation supports a culture of zero tolerance when it comes to being inebriated at work, he adds, and, therefore, supports any policies that a mine may have to promote safe drinking habits.
“Because it is law, if a person is in contravention of the mine’s policy and, therefore, the Health and Safety Act, he or she can be considered guilty of misconduct and may face immediate and legal dismissal,” he notes, pointing out that the legislation also helps miners understand this zero-drinking policy is enforceable by law and not something implemented at the whim of mine management.
Evans further notes that there are also multiple safety reasons for this testing, which include alcohol’s ability to inhibit a person’s rational thinking or appropriate decision-making, which can lead to accidents, mistakes and even death.
“From a productivity perspective, alcohol has been linked to the exacerbation of illnesses, which drives up absenteeism and results in a sporadic and inefficient workforce,” he adds, highlighting that daily testing can ensure that these risks are mitigated by prohibiting intoxicated people from entering a mining area.
Testing may be a temporary solution; however, Evans says, if implemented properly, it forms part of the permanent solution.
“It needs to be carried out every single day as part of the mine’s standard health and safety policy to be effective.”
Supplementing testing with an education and awareness programme on the negative effects of alcohol and substance abuse will further cement the effectiveness of the solution and ensure its success, he enthuses, explaining that
on top of testing and appropriate education, a truly effective long-term solution would need to have an environment in which it can flourish.
“Mines need to create a space in which staff feel comfortable enough to talk about their problems, should they test positively for substance abuse. They also need to encourage or offer support programmes such as rehabilitation. This will enable staff to get the help they need and not fear tests and their outcomes,” Evans says, adding that mines which educate their staff on the realities of drinking, in a targeted and informative manner, are bound to get better results.
Educational programmes ensure that the message is received and that staff are more likely to drink responsibly and not avoid testing, he explains.
Moreover, if testing is simply used to discipline or dismiss staff, they will inevitably try to evade testing – which will result in increased absenteeism and avoidance of the actual issue.
Education, Evans explains, needs to be approached in such a way that it is not seen as a lecture.
“We believe that the talk needs to be ‘relatable’. We find that focusing talks on what people like about drinking tends to generate interest. We talk about facts such as how much alcohol is contained in a drink, the meaning of the alcohol percentage on a bottle, how many drinks are within the legal limit and how many drinks are a quart of beer, for example.
These types of facts, Evans says, appeal to the audience and get them thinking about how they can still enjoy themselves without fearing dismissal at work the next day.
“Typically, mines screen for alcohol using portable breathalysers before allowing mineworkers on site. These breathalysers do not even require a mouthpiece, as workers simply blow onto the device to generate a reading.”
The benefits of not having a mouthpiece are threefold, he explains.
“Firstly, it is more hygienic as no physical contact is being made with the device. Secondly, it is more cost effective as there is no need for multiple mouthpieces to be used, as each mouthpiece costs the mine money owing to the mouthpieces being used once and then thrown away,” Evans states, noting, finally, that it saves a lot of time as there is no need to repeatedly attach and detach mouthpieces.
Although the time saving is a few seconds, he explains that the intervals add up considerably when hundreds of staff must be tested daily – staff can move quickly through the test process and be productive that much sooner.
If the worker fails this screening test, Evans says, he or she is then required to take a confirmation test, providing a printout of the results, which can be used as grounds for dismissal or disciplinary action or as evidence in the event of a court case.
The confirmation test is undertaken using a digital device – like the Lion 700 alcometer breatherlyser from breath alcohol analysis instrumentation expert Lion – which, using a mouthpiece, provides a proper reading that is time and date stamped, and can, therefore, be used as evidence in court.