Opinion Piece: Driving Responsibly: Alcohol and drug testing should be mandatory for South African eCommerce delivery drivers
Rhys Evans, Managing Director at ALCO-Safe

With the South African eCommerce market projected to experience a remarkable 17.9% increase in 2023, contributing to a global growth rate of 17%, the demand for efficient delivery services has surged to meet this expanding sector. Although 'click and collect' options offer convenience, courier companies are still the preferred method of fulfilling eCommerce orders in South Africa.

It would be safe to estimate that there are roughly 50,000 additional drivers (both bike and motor vehicle) transporting deliveries daily across South Africa. Given that such numbers will only keep climbing, taking measures to ensure the sobriety of delivery drivers on the job has become of critical importance. The potential risks faced by logistics and delivery companies in the event of alcohol (or drug) related accidents, which could result in personal injury, loss of goods, and even death, cannot be ignored. One of the most effective steps that a booming industry can take to safeguard its reputation, prioritise road safety, and protect goods in transit is the adoption and implementation of mandatory alcohol and drug testing procedures in its operations.

The legal mandate for a safer industry

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) sets out the general duties of employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees. These duties include ensuring that employees do not consume alcohol or intoxicating substances while at work, alongside ensuring that employees do not perform duties while under the influence. The National Road Traffic Act (NRTA) sets out the rules and regulations for driving on South African roads, which include a prohibition on driving while intoxicated, alongside penalties for doing so. Logistics and delivery companies need to adhere to not only general road safety regulations, but also the specific legislation that governs alcohol and drugs in the workplace in South Africa – ensuring their workforce refrain from working under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Getting it down in writing

For logistics and delivery companies that have not yet implemented a company policy that details the corporate standards on intoxicating substances in the workplace, this is an essential starting point and is important to protect the safety of drivers and the public. Drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs are more likely to be involved in accidents, and injuries, and are more likely to make mistakes that could harm others. A well-crafted alcohol and drug testing policy should be clear, concise, and easy to understand. It should explain the reasons for the policy, the types of tests that will be conducted, and the consequences of a positive test result. The policy should also be fair and consistent, and it should be applied to all employees equally.

A holistic approach to substance control

In addition to ensuring compliance with the legislation mentioned above, there are several other factors that logistics and delivery companies should consider when managing alcohol and drugs in the workplace. These factors include the nature of the work, the company’s culture, policy and procedures, the company’s training, and education programs as well as support systems for workers with substance problems. Education and awareness are critical components in creating a culture of safety, and here drivers need to be educated on the risks associated with intoxicating substances while on the job and to their overall health in the long term. With proper awareness training, drivers are more likely to understand that the company policy on alcohol testing is not to catch them and fire them for drinking but to identify and assist where there is a problem. By offering education and rehabilitative support in addition to conducting compulsory workplace testing, logistics/delivery companies can develop a comprehensive and effective alcohol and drug management program that protects the safety of their drivers and the public.

The mechanics of workplace testing

One major eCommerce logistics player has already begun implementing workplace testing at a number of their warehousing/collection depots. This requires that every driver who arrives for pickup gets tested before they are issued with their parcels to be delivered. Testing is conducted by means of an unmanned breathalyser unit that is mounted onto a wall at collection points. This unit is linked to access control biometrics, and before drivers are permitted access to the dispatch point, they must pass the breathalyser. If a driver blows a positive test, a manager can be brought out and a confirmation screening will be conducted, which can set in motion the disciplinary consequences as detailed in the workplace policy. All results collected by the testing device are stored on a cloud-based platform along with biometric details. This has an auditing benefit and makes it possible to report on the number of tests conducted during a working day, which can help track the progress of workplace safety interventions and identify any personnel risks or operational anomalies.

Safety is the competitive edge

To prepare for the exponential growth of eCommerce and the increasing reliance on delivery services, it is paramount that companies in this industry take steps to ensure road safety and the protection of lives, goods and reputations. Implementing alcohol testing measures provides a vital layer of protection that ensures drivers remain sober while operating vehicles and handling deliveries. By enforcing strict policies and conducting regular testing, companies can mitigate the risks associated with impaired driving, minimise the potential for accidents, and safeguard the well-being of their drivers, other road users, and valuable goods in transit. Furthermore, by prioritising the implementation of alcohol testing protocols, logistics and delivery companies can visibly demonstrate their commitment to professionalism, responsibility, and customer satisfaction. This can solidify their position as trusted and reliable providers in an increasingly competitive eCommerce landscape. Ultimately, investing in alcohol testing is a proactive step that not only enhances safety but also safeguards the long-term success and sustainability of the logistics and delivery industry as a whole.