No random drug testing at N.L. oil projects

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Sources say Supreme Court ruling not an issue for local operators

Hebron project lead Geoff Parker gestures towards the Bull Arm construction site last week. Parker said this week the project is not doing random drug or alcohol testing on the construction site. If an employee is suspected of being under the influence, testing might be arranged, he told The Telegram.

For the most part, workers at offshore oil installations and those busy building the Hebron gravity based structure at the Bull Arm fabrication site are not being subjected to random drug and alcohol testing.

The Telegram asked about the issue in response to a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling. The ruling was in relation to a dispute between Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Local 30 and Irving Pulp and Paper Ltd. and spoke specifically to previous decisions in the case from arbitrators and the lower courts.

In its 6-2 decision, the court ultimately said Irving Pulp and Paper Ltd. could not randomly test 10 per cent of its workers at a New Brunswick paper mill over the course of each year, to see if they are drunk on the job.

The issue is being argued as one of safety versus privacy.

"The dangerousness of a workplace is clearly relevant, but this does not shut down the inquiry, it begins the proportionality exercise," the June 14 ruling reads.

Over the course of the case, Irving noted there were eight alcohol-related incidents at the mill over a 15-year period, but the Supreme Court found that was not enough to bring in universal, random testing.

"In this case, the expected safety gains to the employer were found by the board to range from uncertain to minimal, while the impact on employee privacy was severe," the ruling states.

The decision comes at a time when Suncor Energy has proposed random drug tests for workers in western Canada.

That case is now in arbitration with the strongest union of Suncor workers, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Local 707.

When asked about the issue at the Noia oil and gas conference this week in St. John's, Suncor spokesman John Downton said the company is not randomly testing workers at the Terra Nova offshore oil project off Newfoundland and Labrador.

He said he was not aware of any random drug testing for provincial oil projects.

And following a tour of the Bull Arm Fabrication Site on Monday, to update construction of the Hebron gravity base structure, Hebron project lead Geoff Parker said he had not yet had time to look at the ruling in detail. Parker said he understood the ruling was about random drug and alcohol testing.

"So we're not doing random testing here at the moment," he said. "What we are doing is before anybody starts work here on the site, they're subject to drug and alcohol testing before they're employed and that's not affected by the court ruling as far as I know. And then during the ongoing work, if there's a reason to suspect that somebody might be under the influence of drugs and alcohol then we might do testing there."

Specifically, he said, someone involved in endangering other workers, in a safety incident, would be subject to testing. "And my understanding is that won't change as a result of any of these court rulings," he said.

Paul Barnes,a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), said he was vaguely aware of the court case.

"Our industry doesn't do random drug tests. We do pre-employment drug tests, associated with pre-employment medical and - for certain positions that are safety-critical in the offshore - medicals need to be updated on a frequent basis," he said.

The difference between what has been proposed and the regular checks workers are currently being subjected to is simple: they are not random.

Even though random testing is not part of the equation at this point, prohibitions against alcohol and drug use are being supported in other ways. For example, the Bull Arm Fabrication Site is a dry site - no alcohol allowed on location. "So you're not allowed to take your vehicle on site with a bottle of wine in it, for example," Parker explained.

As well, signs with warnings against alcohol and drug use are posted around the site, including inside the 400-bed, on-site living area.

Meanwhile, the popular industry publication Alberta Oil has reported that discussion of the ruling within the legal community suggests the recent Supreme Court ruling does not permanently close the door on random drug and alcohol testing, since the ruling was, in many ways, case and site-specific.

Organizations: Supreme Court of Canada, Irving Pulp and Paper, Suncor Energy Paperworkers Local 707 Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers Alberta Oil

Geographic location: Hebron, New Brunswick, Canada St. John's Terra Nova Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Robert
    June 26, 2013 - 14:39

    In response to Huck: I work in the oilfield, am pro family and anti drug, and i can tell you that random drug testing would not make anybody safer, what it will do is trample on the few remaining rights we have left as a result of closet fascists like you stripping and trampling our rights as set fourth in the canadian charter. You and your ilk should read it some time. If you don't like those freedoms as enshrined in our charter I suggest you get the hell out. I hear the USA just loves to crush their citizens with the weight of keeping everyone secure. Newfoundlanders beware: there are totalitarians in your midst.

    • Devil's Advocate
      August 09, 2013 - 21:49

      Got to totally agree with you and HARD AT IT. It gives me great hope that there ARE critical thinkers in Newfoundland and not just a pack of sheeple.

  • Huck
    June 25, 2013 - 09:13

    Anyone who tries to find excuses why there shouldn't be random drug and alcohol testing is probably one of the reasons why there should be random tests.

  • Hard At It
    June 23, 2013 - 18:38

    Drug testing does nothing but encourage hard drug use. Individuals who regularly use drugs such as alcohol, tobacco and cocaine are rewarded, while those who use pot are maligned. Fort McMurray is inundated with crack cocaine and powdered cocaine because those drugs metabolize within 72 hours at the high end, 36 hours on the low end. Someone can abuse them on Saturday and pass a "random" drug test on monday. Pot, as a beneficial drug to the human body, is stored in fat cells and can take up to 30 - 45 days to be completely utilized. This means that an individual who uses pot can either quit or use cocaine, methamphetamines or be an alcoholic. For drug testing to be effective the simple saliva test must be used. It is an indication of the presence of drugs within a very short timeframe - i.e. when the accident actually happened.

    • Maybe
      June 24, 2013 - 23:01

      How about NO drugs? Do we really need drugs to enjoy life? Nothing but trouble.

    • MIKE
      June 26, 2013 - 05:50


    • HARD AT IT
      June 26, 2013 - 21:05

      MAYBE - Do you really need Tylenol, Asprin, Morphine, or cancer medications? Everyone assumes that "drugs" means things that are illegal. The hands-down winner in drug related deaths is alcohol. Kills millions and millions every year in every possible way imaginable. It's a terrible drug - orders of magnitude worse than many of your so-called "drugs". MIKE - Educate yourself. Anyone who gives up freedom for the sake of security deserves neither. Allowing private, for-profit corporations, or indeed anyone, to subject you to "random" testing for anything is an affront to the values and intent of a democratic society. Your body is your own - do with it as you will, as long as it does not directly do harm to another. I would certainly suggest that you, or anyone else, stop using addictive drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, but I would never be so arrogant to believe that I have a right to dictate your behavior. To those who argue for continued prohibition of certain drugs - consider how hard the "mob" fought to maintain alcohol prohibition.

  • California Pete fronm NFLD
    June 23, 2013 - 15:13

    AAHHH let me see what was I AAHHH don't remember OOOHHH yes I think AAAHHHHH don't remember but then what do they care AAHHH what for I do feel good

  • Drunk
    June 22, 2013 - 20:34

    They dont want to random drug test because they want the job done by all stoned and drunk newfies. They also want to keep the union halls going and keep them drugs flowing without anybody seeing it. Why isn't CLAC in newfoundland?????

  • Maybe
    June 22, 2013 - 10:24

    Maybe random testing will cut down our crime wave. We all know drugs and crime go together. I hear cocaine is the drug of choice as it doesn't stay in the system. Random testing may make them think about it, if they want to keep their job.

    • open your eyes
      April 10, 2014 - 23:23

      Drug testing would probably be more acceptable, if they used a daily swab, rather then the conventional urine test which doesn't hold any water to being intoxicated at the time. you could fail a test for a joint you smoked a month ago. I'm sure there would a different tune played by most if you all couldn't drink alcohol, but that is already heavily taxed. The Govenrment is currently trying to set up it's medicinal marijuana monoply whcih will also likely be a gold mine for them. First the will have the industry's pushing for the unjustifiable urine tests, while there is better means of conducting such tests, then give all canadians the choice for presciption marijuana, which will then force companies to daily swab you for present impairment on the job, because as long as you got a presciption you can't be disciminated against. Open your eyes, our gov't is a fascist and corrupt.