DRUG AND ALCOHOL PROTOCOL – OVERVIEW
June 6, 1997
Members would be aware that the Union has been negotiating with the Department for several years now in order to agree on a suitable Drug and Alcohol Protocol for the Brigades. The Union’s State Committee has thoroughly debated the draft Protocol, and now recommends the Protocol (summary attached, and full copy provided both with this notice and separately to Union delegates) for adoption by the Union’s rank and file.
The Union’s concern is fundamentally based upon the need for a healthy and safe working environment for its members, together with the safety of the wider community. However, until now the Department and Union have been unable to agree upon just how this could be achieved. The Department has largely relied upon punitive sanctions arising from disciplinary provisions of the Regulations (formerly By-Laws). The Union has always seen drug and alcohol use as a wider cultural and social problem, which will not be eradicated simply by making examples of individual firefighters through demotions, fines or dismissals. Rather, the Union has advocated prevention, education and rehabilitation, leading to a better understanding of the problem by firefighters in the workplace and ultimately, to self-regulation by the membership within the workplace.
The proposed Protocol, if adopted, will radically change the way drug and alcohol problems are handled within the NSWFB. There will be protection of employment for those with chronic, habitual problems, provided such members genuinely seek assistance and co-operate in authorised rehabilitation programs. There will also be a warning system for those who might offend the Protocol on a “one-off” basis, allowing such members time to reassess their approach to the issue of drugs and alcohol within the workplace without facing formal disciplinary proceedings in the first instance. Significantly, for the first time members who are concerned about drug and alcohol use in the workplace will be able to act without the fear of landing their mates in disciplinary proceedings – and possibly getting them the sack.
The Protocol contains two arguably controversial provisions. Firstly, where a Supervisor (eg Capt., S/O, Inspector, etc.) fails to act on the Protocol when it was more than likely that they knew the Protocol had been breached, that Supervisor will incur the same penalty as the member who had actually breached the Protocol. Secondly, where any member breaches the Protocol a second time within two years, the standard disciplinary proceedings will commence. However, in the event that the Department formally charges the member, the Union will recommend that the member pleads guilty, and will only assist such a member with submissions on the penalty. If an offending member instead pleads not guilty and contests the charge, no Union assistance will be provided to that member whatsoever.
Primarily, the State Committee believes that the Protocol: is fair; is focussed on prevention and rehabilitation rather than discipline; is geared to member control of the workplace, and; is ultimately capable of delivering a workplace free of drugs and alcohol. It is neither the Union’s, nor the employer’s responsibility to be “moral police” when it comes to any member’s drug and alcohol use/misuse out of working hours. However, both parties are committed to a healthy and safe workplace, free of any preventative risks including those associated with drugs and/or alcohol. The State Committee of Management recommends the Protocol for adoption. Further member queries are encouraged, prior to voting.
Friday 6th June, 1997
PROPOSED JOINT DRUG AND ALCOHOL PROTOCOL – SUMMARY
The protocol will apply to all NSWFB firefighters, and uniformed personnel. The intention of the protocol will be to eliminate the hazards associated with alcohol and drug use in a way that is consistent and fair to all members. The principal objective of the protocol will be prevention, counselling and rehabilitation.
The protocol will become the sole instrument with which to address any and all alcohol and drug related matters. A joint Union/Dept. committee will be formed, the Alcohol and Drug Safety and Rehabilitation Committee, which will ensure that the principles, procedures and spirit of the agreed protocol are being adhered to.
The protocol’s intervention process will apply where a member’s consumption of alcohol and/or other drugs renders them unfit for their normal duties. Either the member themselves, or the supervisor and/or co-workers, can identify situations where the intervention process should apply.
The protocol will also regulate situations where Station Commanders/ Supervisors fail to intervene where it would be reasonable to expect them to do so, by applying the same sanctions applicable to the member(s) who breaches the protocol.
The protocol operates on the distinction between the following situations;
coming on duty under the influence of chronic alcohol and other alcohol and/or other drugs, OR drug problems as evidenced consuming alcohol and/or other drugs by work performance
while on duty (long term) problems