AGRICULTURAL workforces aren’t the only ones facing increased productivity threats driven by the inflated use of the illegal drug ‘ice’ by employees.
But the shearing industry is taking proactive steps to address work-place health and safety dangers, ignited by the national methamphetamine use epidemic that’s hitting regional Australia particularly hardest.
A national summit of wool industry stakeholders and farm leaders is set to be held in Adelaide on May 24 to tackle problems caused by hard drugs like ‘ice’ and alcohol use, in Australian shearing sheds.
Those attending the summit, where a range of speakers will present on the tough topic, include representatives from; the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF); Australian Workers’ Union; Shearing Contractors Association of Australia; WoolProducers Australia; Australian Wool Exchange; and WA Shearing Industry Association.
NFF Workforce Productivity Committee Chair Charlie Armstrong said there was plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the use of ‘ice’ was an issue in agriculture as it was in other industries around Australia.
Mr Armstrong said the impacts of ‘ice’ use on businesses like farming included; absenteeism; lost productivity; lower quality of work; and risks to workplace safety.
He said all of those factors also had an overall impact on team and group morale, in the work-place.
Mr Armstrong said the use of ‘ice’ was often still treated as a social issue, making it a difficult issue to deal with on-farm.
However, he said the shearing industry was currently working on ways to deal with drug and alcohol use in sheds - with a “particular focus” on ‘ice’ use – by running its national safety summit to examine and debate the issue, on May 24 in Adelaide.
At the summit, a range of speakers from across the wool industry will present and invite discussion on ways to tackle drug and alcohol use.
It stems from ongoing work by the Wool Industry Stakeholder Reference Group which was formed to support farmers, contractors and workers when responding to reports of workplace health and safety risks involving alcohol and drugs, through the development of practical guidance materials.
The group’s ultimate aim being to protect the farmer, the shearing contractor and the employee from safety issues that arise when someone turns up to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The NFF didn’t make a formal submission to a federal government inquiry on the issue of ‘ice’ or crystal methamphetamine, by the Joint Committee on Law Enforcement which commenced in the previous parliament and was re-initiated in the current one.
But an Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) submission pointed to a report by the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) which said amphetamine usage by employees was higher than the total workforce average (4 per cent) in the industries of agriculture, hospitality, transport, construction, retail and manufacturing.
“This is more than double the rate of usage that was estimated by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) for the entire population aged 14 years and over, at around 2pc in 2010 and in 2013,” the submission said.
“Within this group of methamphetamine users, the AIHW found that ‘ice’ usage is increasing while powders usage (e.g. cocaine) is decreasing.
“The AIHW further found that correlated with this increasing ‘ice’ usage, more methamphetamine users were taking the drugs daily or weekly - up from 12.4pc of these users in 2010 to 25.3pc in 2013.”
The submission said monthly use of ‘ice’ was highest in the mining sector (38pc) and agriculture sector (33pc).
“Employers consistently report that it is often impossible to determine whether an employee is under the influence of ‘ice’ without formal drug and alcohol testing,” it said.
The Ai Group said the greater ease of access to ‘ice’, including in regional areas, placed Australian workplaces at risk.
The Australian government has also injected about $300 million into a national strategy of community programs to address the nation’s methamphetamine epidemic - including a focus on regional Australia - in response to the National Ice Taskforce report.