Almost half of prospective employees screened for illicit drugs are failing and companies are neglecting the importance of post-employment checks, according to a testing agency.

Benedict Associates programmes director Chris Backeberg believes the drug problem in Bermuda will only worsen unless employers help people instead of simply screening them out.

“Companies have a duty to tackle this. If you’ve identified a problem, be willing to be part of the remedy,” he said.

Benedict Associates has been working with employers to develop ‘drug free workplace’ (DFW) policies for more than ten years, and testing is just one part of a package that is also supposed to include intervention and assistance.

Around 30 companies on the Island currently have DFW in conjunction with Benedict Associates, but only food importer Butterfield and Vallis regularly conducts random tests on employees once they have been taken on.

Mr. Backeberg cited Butterfield and Vallis as “exemplary” when it comes to pro-active implementation of its policy, being the only one to meet all the criteria of assessment, intervention and follow-up care – even being prepared to take on people coming out of Westgate and treatment centres.

The generally “reactive” rather than “pro-active” stance of the other companies – who tend to call in Benedict Associates to test troublesome employees they already suspect – is one of the reasons they are falling down, he said.

“If someone tests positive for marijuana, what are you going to do with that person?” he asked. Although the first answer might be to dismiss them, this is costly, he said, explaining that it costs some organisations tens of thousands of dollars every time they have to fire and re-hire.

According to statistics from Benedict Associates, drug and alcohol problems cost Bermuda’s businesses an estimated $17.5 million in lost productivity in 2000. The aim of a DFW policy, said Mr. Backeberg, is to reduce turnover but this will not be achieved without appropriate help for positive-testing employees.

“It’s fear of conflict. The number one reason that substance abuse continues to have an impact is managers and supervisors saying ‘it’s not an issue’.

“It’s about being willing to implement the policy but you get comments like, ‘If I was to implement a drug free work place policy, half my workforce will go,’” he said.

Minister for National Drug Control Wayne Perinchief has recently spoken of his desire for every company on the Island to eventually have a DFW policy in place – only 25 percent do at present.

“We’re really psyched to hear the Minister saying he wants to make a difference,” said Mr. Backeberg.

He added that he would eventually like to see drug free policies extended to schools on the Island – as is the case in the United States – as well as in workplaces.

“The day Bermuda implements a drug-free school environment, we know we’ve come a long way. We’ve got to start with the kids,” he said.