Info Spot: Current issues

New Legislation For Australian Civil Aviation  –  written 1st Feb, 2009


In an attempt to improve safety and minimise the likelihood of an alcohol or drug-related accident (or incident), the Civil Aviation Safety Regulations 1998 (CASR 1998) have now been amended by the addition of Part 99 – Drug and alcohol management plans and testing. Signed off on 18 Sep, 2008, this new amendment to the regulations became effective on 23 Sep, 2008 (this is known as the “commencement date”). Following this commencement date, there is a six month “transition period” (to the 23 Mar, 2009) where the Australian Civil Aviation Industry has an opportunity to design and implement the required Drug and Alcohol Management Plan (DAMP).

There are two important subparts to Part 99:-

1)    Subpart 99.B    Drug and alcohol management plans, and

2)    Subpart 99.C    Drug and alcohol testing by CASA.

Theoretically, under subpart 99.C, CASA has already begun randomly drug and alcohol testing, with no notice, any person (commercial or private) who might be engaged in safety-sensitive aviation activities (SSAA). Generally, CASA will sub-contract this random testing to “approved testers”.

Under subpart 99.B, various aviation organisations must design their own individualised DAMP, and then take steps to implement it (by 23 Mar, 2009). These aviation organisations are generally commercial operations, so this testing does NOT apply to (say) private pilots. The DAMP organisation may ‘enforce’ alcohol and drug testing in any circumstance that it sees fit, but there are basic circumstance where such testing MUST be performed. These circumstances are:-

i)    When a person first joins the DAMP organisation, and they are expected to be engaging in SSAA,
ii)    When an employee’s role is to change to that of a regular SSAA employee,
iii)    After an accident or serious incident involving a SSAA employee. Note that breath alcohol testing must be carried out within 8 hours and drug testing (saliva or urine) within 32 hours,
iv)    If there is reasonable suspicion that a SSAA employee may be adversely affected by alcohol or a (testable) drug,
v)    If a SSAA employee is returning to work following a lay-off period that resulted from them testing positive to alcohol or a drug.

What substances are being tested for?

1)    Alcohol.

This is being done with a Breath Analyser that meets specified protocol and measurement standards.
The accepted level is LESS than 0.02% ………….. note that this is markedly lower than the 0.05% for roadside testing in Qld.

2)    Testable drugs.

The particular drug groups covered are:-
i)    Amphetamines (Speed, Ice, Ecstasy),
ii)    Cannabis,
iii)    Cocaine, and
iv)    Opioids (heroin, morphine, codeine).

The CASA approved testers (that is, the random, no-notice testing) will ONLY use saliva for this drug testing. If their on-site test devices indicate the presence of any of the testable drugs, then two sealed specimens will be sent to an accredited laboratory for confirmatory testing. The SSAA employee will not be able to engage in further SSAA (until ‘cleared’, or otherwise).

The DAMP drug testing may be performed with either (or both) saliva and urine. Once again, if the on-site devices indicate the presence of any of the testable drugs, two specimens will go to the lab and the employee must refrain from SSAA.

The on-site test drug test devices, like the alcohol analyser, also has to meet certain measurement standards (“Australian Standards”).

What happens if the lab confirms a positive result?

If the presence of a testable drug is confirmed, then the individual must continue to refrain from SSAA and be referred to a Medical Review Officer. At this consultation it will be determined if there is any “innocent” reason why the individual tested positive for the particular drug.

If for some reason an individual cannot produce the requested specimen, then they must also be referred to an MRO for further assessment.

If either the breath alcohol was confirmed to be 0.02% (or above) or if the confirmed positive drug test has no innocent explanation, then the individual will be referred for a formal Comprehensive Assessment (this will ordinarily be performed by a specialist doctor with particular skills and interest in problematic alcohol and drug use).

When can I return to work?

The Comprehensive Assessment will result in a response plan specific for that particular individual. The MRO will oversee the implementation of such a response plan, and will determine when it is appropriate for the individual to return to SSAA. Prior to return to SSAA, if the person had a confirmed positive drug test, then they must test negative for a follow up drug test. It may be determined, as part of the response plan, that they continue to be tested over the next year or two.

Who pays for all this?

CASA will be paying for their own testing, but the cost of implementing all other components of this new regulation will be borne by the aviation industry (and ultimately the general public). Ordinarily, each DAMP organisation will have to pay for expenses relating to their own SSAA employees, but there may be a DAMP policy in place that specifies that any individual testing positive has to meet some component of their individual assessment and treatment cost. Note also that the particular SSAA employee may also be in a position that they are not earning an income until they are cleared to return to SSAA.

If the CASA random testing picks up a private individual involved in SSAA (say a private recreational pilot), then that individual would have to meet the whole cost of their assessments, rehabilitation and further testing, or they may never be able to return to their SSAA activity.

Will I lose my job?

This is entirely possible, but may depend on the particular DAMP organisation. Every SSAA individual needs to be aware of their organisation policy well before the 23 Mar 2009.