THE resource industry has voiced its support for police operations targeting illicit drug use on remote Western Australian mine sites, with the first crackdown commencing at Fortescue Metals Group’s Christmas Creek project in recent days.

On the first day of Operation Redwater, around 300 employees and contractors were screened for drug possession by police officers and a sniffer dog shortly after the arrival of eight flights coming from Karratha, Perth, Port Hedland, Fitzroy Crossing and Darwin last Tuesday.

A second operation was carried out at FMG’s Cloudbreak mine the following day.

“Illegal drugs do not belong in the mining industry, just as they do not belong in the community, and anyone who uses illegal drugs on a Fortescue site is putting the safety of themselves and their mates at risk, which is unacceptable,” FMG chief Nev Power said in a statement.

“There is a growing and significant incidents of drugs use in our society and some of that flows to our mine sites and endangers the safety of workers and individuals. We are working with WA Police to prevent access so we have a significant deterrence for people wanting to bring drugs on site.

“It’s time we as an industry and society stood up against drugs. There is no room for it on our sites.”

Commander Murray Smalpage of the Western Australian Police said engagement with the mining, oil and gas sector helped bring Operation Redwater to fruition and was ‘important in combatting illicit drug use in regional WA’.

“WA Police and industry members have a shared interest in removing drugs from work sites. From our perspective it is about law enforcement and community protection, and for industry members it is about the health and safety of their staff,” he said.

“As with any new approach to policing, the first time the new approach is used sets the scene for future operations, and to have FMG on board in such a pro-active and collaborative manner has made a big difference.

“We won’t be saying where we are a going, or when we are going, but one thing is for sure – this new partnership with industry members will make it much easier for us to arrive on your worksite.”

Renewed call for drug testing clarity

The police operation gained extensive support from the business community, with Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) chief executive Steve Knott adding his view that resource employers should face less third party interference when seeking to manage the risk of drugs on mining, oil and gas projects.

“The nature of resource industry work, often involving heavy machinery, gas plants, shipping movements and hot molten metal, highlights why a zero tolerance approach is the only approach to effectively manage and minimise safety risks to employees associated with drugs,” he said.

“It has been concerning that some third parties quite removed from the workplace, such as union bosses and members of IR tribunals, have sought to water down stringent drug and alcohol management policies implemented by employers on remote worksites.”

Mr Knott said remote drug site management should be left to experience safety professionals.

“This could very well have serious consequences for somebody working in a remote mining environment, where anyone affected by drugs or alcohol not only puts their life at risk, but also the lives of their colleagues,” he said.

“The recent police operation reinforces employer concerns regarding the dangers of drug use on remote resource worksites, and should cause a re-think by those who have attempted to counteract the strict anti-drug requirements insisted on by the industry.”

AMMA continues to support having a range of drug and alcohol testing procedures available to employers as an important safety measure to protect workers on-site in the mining, oil and gas industry.