Public transit workers in Toronto will in the near future be subject to random drug and alcohol testing as the city’s transit service was given permission to start testing employees in safety-sensitive positions, according to a report from the Canadian OH&S News.
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) was pushing for random testing to be added to the Fitness for Duty policy because the current policy, which came into effect in 2010, has been ineffective at deterring workplace intoxication, says Brad Ross, director of public communications for the TTC.
The current policy allows for workers in safety-sensitive positions – operators, maintenance staff, supervisors and executives – to be tested for alcohol and marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines and PCP, using breathalyzers and saliva swabs, when there is a reasonable cause or testing post-incident, post-violation, post-treatment and pre-employment.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents the majority of TTC workers, is already challenging the present policy, and random testing will be added to the grievance, commented Ian Fellows, the union’s lawyer in the grievance litigation.
“It’s an invasion of our members’ privacy. It treats everybody as if they’ve done something wrong and it requires them to submit to an invasive procedure,” says Fellows. “They’ve got to offer up a sample of their bodily fluid and their DNA. That’s contrary to our agreement and we say the [Ontario] Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights.”
While specifics regarding how the program would run have not yet been worked out, Ross notes the TTC would work with a third party to develop a testing protocol and it would be at least a few months before a system would be ready to implement.
“We need to figure out what percentage of employees we’d need to test on an annual basis, but in theory the way it works is you show up for work and the system tells us it’s your turn for random testing,” he says.
The saliva swabs, as opposed to the traditional urinalysis when testing for drugs, only show whether a person was impaired when the swab was taken based on a pass/fail threshold, not if they had used drugs in the past. The swabs would be tested by an outside lab, Ross says. “We’re interested in ensuring that when you report for work, you’re fit for duty, not what you did two days ago or two weeks ago, for that matter.”
This is not the first time the TTC has tried to introduce random drug and alcohol testing. When it first brought the Fitness for Duty policy to its board of directors in September of 2008, random testing was in the policy, but the board refused to give it the green light. However, the board has changed since the policy was first introduced.
Ross reports that TTC staff felt the random testing policy was needed and would revisit the proposal at a later date. Ross also dismissed a recent incident, where a TTC bus driver was found with marijuana in his possession after a fatal accident, as the reason for trying to reintroduce random testing.
“There have been a number of public incidents over the last couple of years that have been cause for great concern, and there have been incidents within the organization that have not been public but are a concern as well,” he says.
The number of incidents involving drugs and alcohol has not decreased since the policy was introduced, Ross added.
Though the TTC has data comparing the number of incidents from 2006 to 2008 and 2008 to present, they are part of the grievance litigation and are not being released to the public. Hearings began in 2011 and are scheduled throughout 2012.
Random testing brings the TTC, with its 1.6-million riders a day, more in line with public transit services in the United States, where random testing of all workers in the transportation sector is the law. “We are the third largest transit agency in North America after New York and Mexico City, and we feel that this element of the policy is necessary,” Ross noted.
Windsor’s public transit service is the only one in Canada that has implemented random testing, but only for employees who drive routes that cross into Michigan.
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