Addressing the growing threat of substance abuse in mining operations

5/25/2023 8:51:00 AM

Addressing the growing threat of substance abuse in mining operations

Opinion Piece: Addressing the growing threat of substance abuse in mining operations    

By Rhys Evans, Managing Director at ALCO-Safe

Mining companies face significant safety risks associated with the use of nyaope and cannabis among their employees, jeopardising both the well-being of workers and the overall safety of operations. These substances can severely impair users' ability to concentrate, posing challenges to maintaining focus during work. To ensure the safety of mineworkers, minimise incidents of injury, and maximise productivity, mining companies should consider adopting saliva testing as a more suitable method of screening. Saliva testing offers shorter detection periods indicating recent usage when compared to urine testing. Its sample collection process is less invasive, making employees more willing to comply with testing requirements. Furthermore, drugs can be detected in saliva within minutes of usage, enabling quicker identification compared to urine samples, which may take up to 72 hours to reveal drug presence. Embracing saliva testing can effectively accelerate the detection of drug use among mine employees, promoting a safer work environment.

Legislative necessity for testing

The Mine Health and Safety Act (MHSA) is the primary legislation that regulates health and safety in the mining industry. The MHSA requires mine owners to take all reasonable steps to prevent accidents and injuries, including the prevention of drug use. The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent accidents and injuries, including the prevention of drug use. 

Dangerous substances

Nyaope and cannabis are both drugs that can have a significant impact on a person's ability to work safely and effectively. Nyaope is a dangerous and highly addictive drug that is made from a mixture of heroin, rat poison, and other substances. Worryingly, nyaope is increasingly mixed and sold with cannabis, often without the user’s knowledge which results in addiction, and  can cause a number of health complications, including respiratory and heart problems as well as mental health problems. Nyaope can also impair a person's judgment and coordination, which can lead to accidents and injuries in the workplace. A great concern surrounding nyaope is the fact that it can create a culture of addiction among several mine employees as they share the experience of smoking the substance. Furthermore, due to its harsh nature, the after-effect of the drug is so intense on an individual that it often leads to violent and aggressive tendencies among users – leading to an even more unsafe working environment.

While cannabis is a less dangerous drug than nyaope, it can still impair a person's ability to work safely and effectively as it can cause drowsiness, impaired judgment, and slowed reaction time. These effects can make it difficult for people to operate machinery or equipment safely, and they can also increase the risk of accidents and injuries. In addition to the physical dangers, the use of nyaope and cannabis in the workplace can also lead to several other problems. These include decreased morale and productivity, increased absenteeism, and staff turnover. This is why it is important for mines to facilitate regular testing to eliminate a possible culture of using these harmful and addictive substances.

Stepping up to stem the tide of substance abuse

There are several steps that mining organisations can take to stem the use of drugs in the industry, such as implementing regular drug testing programs. Drug testing programs can help to identify employees who are using drugs and prevent them from entering the workplace intoxicated. To achieve this, mines need to implement a strategy of testing a set number or percentage of employees per day. This method will have a much stronger and more successful deterrent effect, as word spreads through the workforce of the likelihood of being tested – helping prevent unnecessary accidents and injuries, while aiming to improve productivity and morale. 

To ensure that testing programs are not perceived as having a purely disciplinary purpose, mining organisations should provide employee awareness and assistance programs. These must educate workers on the dangers associated with substance abuse and provide support to employees who are struggling with addiction through counselling, support groups, and other resources to get the treatment they need. Through awareness and testing, mining companies can establish a drug-free workplace culture by educating employees about the dangers of drugs and setting clear expectations for drug use through a written workplace substance policy. This can help to discourage employees from using drugs in the first place. It is also important for mining organisations to work closely with unions and other stakeholders in the development and implementation of drug prevention programs. This can help to ensure that all employees are aware of the dangers of drugs and that they have access to the resources they need to get help.

Advancements in testing technology 

For the purposes of saliva testing, disposable multi-panel tests are no longer the only option. Today, mining organisations should be investing in a SoToxa Mobile Test System, designed for rapid drug screening and detection in oral fluid. This handheld analyser can detect the presence of six kinds of drugs: cocaine, methamphetamine, opiates, cannabis (THC), amphetamine and benzodiazepines. One of the major benefits associated with this testing system is its reporting functionality, which can be filtered by various factors such as age group and gender. This can be used to assess progress in the establishment of a drug-free workplace and measure the effectiveness of workplace interventions over time. 

Drug-free workplace culture

It is important to remember that drug testing is not a perfect solution, but it is an important tool that can help to reduce the use of drugs in the workplace. It should be used in conjunction with other measures, such as employee assistance programs to create a drug-free workplace culture. Furthermore, drug testing should be fair and consistent, and should always be conducted in a way that respects the privacy of employees. By taking such steps, mining companies can help to create a safe and productive workplace for their employees. 

Editorial contacts 

Rhys Evans 
Managing Director 
Tel: 012 343 8114 
Evolution PR
Mbali Makhubo
Tel: 072 407 9780


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