Ag's HR Coach

Make Your Farm a Drug-Free Zone

Lori Culler
By  Lori Culler , DTN Farm Business Adviser
Employers with drug policies can weed out users prior to hiring and make the workplace safer. (DTN photo illustration by Scott R Kemper)

Have you ever thought about drug testing employees on your farm? It may have been a passing thought as you feel there is no reason distrust your team. It might seem like an administrative headache for a task that produces no value. But with long hours, necessary concentration and operation of heavy equipment, having a clear-minded, alert team is imperative.

Implementing a drug testing program is an extremely simple process. With low costs, minimal effort and increased benefits from reduced injury and liability, it just makes good business sense.

According to HireRight, alcohol and drugs are responsible for one in six on-the-job fatalities. According to the National Safety Council, 80% of those injured in "serious" drug-related accidents at work are not the drug-abusing employee, but innocent co-workers or others. By drug testing employees, you protect the safety of employees and reduce your liability.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a drug-using employee is five times more likely to make a worker's compensation claim. If you have a post-accident drug testing policy in place and the employee tests positive for drug/alcohol use the employee is not eligible to receive worker's compensation benefits. That can be a significant amount of savings for an injury with long-term effects.

Simply having a policy in place helps to "weed out" prospective employees who may be users. If a potential new hire understands you conduct pre-hire drug screens, they may withdraw their application or not take an offer. Individuals that regularly use drugs will seek out companies that do not drug test, which are typically smaller businesses. On average, eight out of 10 employers drug test employees. If you are a farm that doesn't screen, you could be attracting the wrong type of candidate to apply.

There are several options for conducting drug tests. You may choose to use instant, on-site drug testing kits on the farm. However, I've found it's easier to partner with a local occupational health center or a larger organization such as Quest Laboratories that specializes in drug testing. There are various methods for testing, including lab urine testing, instant urine, hair or saliva. Results typically take one to three days and tests can run from $45 to $75 per test.

For most employers, a typical drug testing policy specifies testing prior to employment, after an accident and/or injury on the farm or if suspicious behavior is detected. All policies should state that if an employee refuses to take the test or attempts to falsify the results, it's automatic termination.

Pre-employment drug testing normally is performed before a new hire starts work, but after the offer has been extended and accepted. This reduces the cost to administering only to your final candidate. With the results often available within one day, testing doesn't delay the hiring process. All employment offers should state in writing the offer is contingent upon passing drug test results.

A post-accident policy would subject employees to testing when they cause or contribute to a serious accident, causing damage to company equipment/property or when the accident results in injury to themselves or another individual requiring off-site medical care.

Reasonable suspicion would subject employees to drug testing if a supervisor observes reasonably suspicious behavior. Typical observations would be smell of alcohol/drugs, slurred speech, impaired work ability, etc.

One of AgHires' clients, a farm in Indiana, has been conducting pre-employment drug testing for about two years. They have only had one pre-hire result come back positive. Although it may only be a handful of employees that test positive, it takes just one drug-using employee to seriously hurt the farm in either damage, employee injuries or liability.

Drug use and positive drug testing results are on the rise. According to Quest Diagnostics, this is the fifth straight year of increases in the detection rate of amphetamine and heroin; marijuana positivity has increased 47% since 2013 in oral fluid testing. For the low investment to implement, and the added security and risk reduction for the farm, we advise adding a drug-testing program on any size farm operation.

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Editor's Note: Lori Culler grew up on a vegetable and grain farm and is the founder of AgHires (https://aghires.com/…), a national employment recruiting service and online ag job board based in Temperance, Michigan. Email lori@aghires.com and find other labor management tips under Resources at www.dtnpf.com

(MZT/BAS)

Lori Culler