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  Issue No 13 Official Organ of LaborNet 14 May 1999  

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Unions

Kicking the Habit


The architect of a trade union drug and alcohol program has revealed his own battle with drugs motivated him to help other workers kick the habit.

Building Trades Group drug and alcohol program convenor Trevor Sharp, a delegate to the premier's Drug Summit, said he had been a heroin user for 12 years between 1977 and 1989.

"The only reason I am here today is that the harm reduction policies kept me alive until I was willing to embrace abstinence," Sharp told the Labor Council's Drug Policy Forum.

Now he works to ensure other workers with drug and alcohol habits have the support to make the same tough decision he did: zero tolerance.

"I had always been a union official and when I started working again after my recovery I joined the drug and alcohol committee, they were seeking volunteers and I'd been told this would be good for my recovery."

Sharp's program has been running since 1992. Funded by the federal government, he has established a drug and alcohol program in every state and also employs a full-time fundraiser.

The program has been driven by building industry unions who see, first hand, the impact of alcohol and drug abuse on construction sites, particularly the way it contributes to accidents.

The Building Trades Drug and Alcohol Committee was formed by workers and union officials in 1989. It is an innovative peer based education program that aims to reduce harm caused by alcohol and other drugs through awareness raising, a workplace policy to safeguard workers and a training program to promote peer intervention. It also assists drug and alcohol-affected workers and their families with advice, welfare and rehabilitation.

Its approach is based on harm reduction principles that focus on safety, with messages that emphasise how unsafe behaviour can affect everyone in the workplace.

The Program has long been recognised as a leader in workplace issues by the alcohol and drug sector and by government.

Development of the Program

The Committee initially understood that for a program to succeed it would have to be acceptable to its primary target group, that is the construction industry workforce.

In order to establish a program and policy that was acceptable to workers in the industry, the Committee involved those workers in its development. Meetings were conducted on a regular basis with rank and file building workers on construction sites, seeking their opinion on what the program should contain and how it should be implemented.

Notes were taken at each meeting and after much drafting and redrafting, a program for the building industry was developed. The program policy was then taken to mass meetings of workers where it was endorsed unanimously and then to the BTG where it was endorsed and became Building Trades Group Policy.

The programs philosophy is simply but comprehensibly outlined in the following slogan:

"If you choose to use alcohol or drugs, that's your business,

If you choose to do it in the workplace, it's our business.

If you want to stop drinking or using, maybe we can help."

In summary, the key features of the Program are:

· It has been developed by workers for workers, giving them ownership of the solution as well as the problem.

· It uses peer-education strategies, where fellow-workers (site safety committee or other nominated peers) undertake interventions.

· It employs a harm reduction approach that focuses on safety and emphasises the impact on all workers of unsafe behaviour caused by drugs and alcohol.

Polices Accepted by the Industry

All major stakeholders in the industry have accepted the Program's polices and it is now the industry standard for drug and alcohol related issues.

Polices on drug testing, the safe disposal of needles and syringes from worksites, and the responsible serving of alcohol at industry functions have also been developed and implemented.

The Program has presented 485 on-site awareness sessions (duration 30 to 40 minutes), with 40,079 workers attending and being exposed to the messages (March 1999).

Workplace Training Courses

A two-hour drug and alcohol safety in the workplace-training course has been designed, which includes the video "Not at Work, Mate". The course has been presented in 87 safety courses to 866 workers.

Apprentice Education

A special course for younger workers, including information on safe drinking levels, safe drug use practices and HIV/AIDS awareness, was developed to target apprentices. The course has been presented 725 time to a total of 7,923 building industry apprentices in TAFE Colleges around NSW (March 1999).

HIV/AIDS Education Campaign

In conjunction with other education and training, an HIV/AIDS eduction campaign designed specifically for building workers has been conducted since 1996.

Welfare of Workers

The Program has directly assisted 253 building workers who sought help for drug or alcohol related problems. Seventy-five (75) of these building workers who sought help in the past year. This does not include the greater number of workers who sought assistance form their workplace delegates or safety committee members trained by the Program.

Education Video

The video "Not at Work, Mate" was produced and included in the training courses. It has won industry awards and been widely acclaimed for capturing the culture of the industry, as well as its very real description of alcohol and drug problems, and the Program in practice.

Other Unions Can Follow Trevor's Lead

NSW Labor Council's occupational health and safety officer Mary Yaager says the Building Trades Group's approach to drug and alcohol abuse is being followed by many unions.

Yaager says unions that are considering developing a drug and alcohol policy should ensure the following provisions are incorporated:

· Access to employee assistance programs.

· Training programs for employees, supervisors and individuals who may be required to deal with workers affected by drugs or alcohol.

· Counselling Procedures, (It is recommended to use the four interview approach)

· Confidentiality

· Education and Information

· Implementation Strategy.


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*    See the BTG drugs and alochol site

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 13 contents

In this issue
Features
*  Interview: Really Caring
Sam Moait will be sending a message from the 48,000 nurses who she represents when she takes her seat at the Drug Summit
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*  Unions: Kicking the Habit
The architect of a trade union drug and alcohol program has revealed his own battle with drugs motivated him to help other workers kick the habit.
*
*  History: Remembering BHP: Memory and Industrial Heritage
The announcement of the intended closure of BHP’s Newcastle steelworks heightened the awareness that industrial heritage is more than derelict sites of production.
*
*  Review: Ten Songs to Revolution
We ask Labor Council's resident music critic to name the ten songs that define the nineties.
*
*  International: Union Lifts Lid on Rio Tinto Shame File
The global campaign against mining giant Rio Tinto has been stepped up with a new report alleging abuses of human rights, environmental and safety standards.
*

News
»  Unions Warn Carr: Bosses Can’t Veto Second Wave
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»  Labor Council Backs Harm Minimisation
*
»  Aquilina Urged to Talk as Students Offered Teaching Jobs
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»  Cutting Through the Budget Crap
*
»  LHMU Demands Y2K Protection for Workers
*
»  Cops Eye Airport Beat
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»  Spanish Workers Warned on Tax Agents
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»  Unions to March on Journey of Healing on May 26
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»  NSW Young Labor Turns 50!
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Columns
»  Guest Report
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»  Sport
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»  Trades Hall
*
»  Piers Watch
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Letters to the editor
»  Why Wran's Right
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»  London Calling
*

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