Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace: Purpose, Types, and Accuracy
01 October, 2023
Drug and alcohol testing in the workplace is an essential tool for companies with safety-sensitive environments. This procedure detects illegal substances in employees who are posing risks. Hence, employers can take swift action to protect the well-being of the workforce. In addition, there are several methods, including urine, saliva, breath, and blood testing. Each type provides varying levels of accuracy, depending on the sampling procedure and the sensitivity of the test equipment.
Workplace safety is vital for a productive and healthy workforce. However, many employers face challenges with drug and alcohol use and abuse. It affects not only the individual taking the substances but also the people around them. Therefore, testing serves as an effective approach to help companies uphold their safety standards and protect their employees from potential threats. In this article, we will present the purposes of drug and alcohol testing, the different types available, and their accuracy.
Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace: Purpose and Significance
The main purpose of drug and alcohol testing in the workplace is to ensure a safe working environment. It aims to identify employees who may pose a risk due to their use of illicit drugs and alcohol. When a person is under the influence, it impairs their judgment, coordination, and cognitive abilities. Consequently, it diminishes their ability to perform tasks safely and efficiently.
Workplace drug testing is essential for maintaining productivity. Substance abuse can lead to absenteeism, increased errors, and poor decision-making. By conducting regular screening, employers can identify employees struggling with drug and alcohol use disorders. Hence, they can provide the necessary support and resources to overcome their addiction. In turn, it helps regain their efficiency.
Moreover, drug and alcohol testing helps companies meet the regulatory requirements for workplace safety. Organisations have a duty of care towards their employees and are responsible for providing a healthy and hazard-free environment. Therefore, they can be accountable for any untoward incidents. Implementing drug and alcohol policies not only demonstrates compliance but also helps protect from potential legal issues.
Reasons to Conduct a Test
- Identify suitable candidates for the job. Pre-employment testing is a standard requirement for positions with safety-critical roles. It helps employers determine if an applicant has risky or abusive behaviours.
- Minimise hazards. Blanket or random drug testing helps determine employees with current impairments and prevents them from operating heavy machinery and other sensitive tasks.
- Confirm reasonable suspicion. Administering the test on an individual displaying visible signs of impairment or intoxication.
- Confirm post-accident. Determine if drug or alcohol use is a factor that leads to an incident.
- Deter substance abuse. Alcohol and drug tests not only identify employees with addiction, but they can also discourage use.
Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace: Types
Drug and alcohol testing in the workplace uses various test methods. One of the most common methods is urine testing. It involves collecting a sample of urine and analysing it for the presence of drugs or drug metabolites. This procedure is relatively inexpensive and easy to administer, making it a preferred choice for many employers and organisations.
Another type is oral fluid testing. It involves collecting saliva samples by swabbing the inside of the mouth. This method is non-invasive and provides accurate results for recent drug use. Additionally, breath alcohol testing is efficient for detecting ethanol. It uses a breathalyser device that can measure Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) or the extent of alcohol intoxication.
Furthermore, the blood test is the most accurate and precise test method. It analyses the blood sample for the presence of alcohol or drug rather than their metabolites. However, due to its costly and intrusive nature, it is least used and often limited for confirmatory testing. Overall, the option for such testing depends on the purpose of the test, the desired detection window, and the necessities of the situation.
What Can Be Detected
Alcohol and drug testing can detect a wide range of substances, including both illegal drugs and legal prescription medications. Some of the most common substances are marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, and benzodiazepines. Prescription drugs can show up in a drug test because they have the same active ingredients as illegal substances.
Individuals taking prescribed medications should inform their employer or test administrator. Moreover, a breathalyser test can detect ethanol molecules within seconds. It is vital not to eat or drink before the breath test to avoid interference with the readings. Overall, this can help reveal a person’s health status, including possible substance abuse disorders.
Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace: Accuracy and Reliability
The accuracy of drug and alcohol testing in the workplace is critical for identifying employees posing safety risks. This is because positive drug and alcohol test results can have legal challenges. The disciplinary actions may include suspension or dismissal for breaches of the employment agreement. Therefore, employers must ensure reliable testing procedures.
One of the essential aspects is correct sample collection and analysis. Administrators must take the necessary steps to avoid adulteration and tampering with the samples. Another factor to consider is the sensitivity of the testing equipment. Drug test kits can have different cut-off points that may affect the results. In addition, it is crucial to use certified devices to ensure it complies with the testing standards.
Following the testing protocols help achieve reliable and accurate results. It is also important to note that the outcome may vary based on the type of test. Urine tests can detect drug use up to two days prior, whereas oral fluid tests can detect recent use within 24 hours. Lastly, certain medical conditions may produce non-negative results. Testing services have standard procedures to avoid inaccurate outcomes.
Are there Risks of False Positives?
False positives may happen in certain circumstances. Various factors may affect the results, including the inherent limitations of the test methods themselves. A common situation is the cross-reactivity of over-the-counter medication with other substances. This can trigger a positive result for illicit drugs, even though the person has not consumed them.
To minimise false positives, it is essential to retest the sample and analyse the results using advanced techniques. Laboratories often use GC-MS (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) to identify the exact substance and measure the concentration level. Then, a medical review officer will validate the sample before releasing a final report.
Drug and alcohol testing in the workplace is a critical process that can help employers identify safety risks. Their main purpose is to provide a safe workplace and improve productivity. Companies may facilitate these tests for various reasons, such as pre-employment, random, post-accident, reasonable suspicion, and blanket testing. Moreover, it utilises various procedures, such as urine, oral fluid, breath, and blood testing, to detect drugs of abuse. Each type has a different detection window, sensitivity, and accuracy level.
The accuracy of such tests depends on carefully following the procedures to avoid sample adulteration or tampering. Moreover, specialised testing equipment with certifications and advanced techniques is necessary to guarantee reliable results. For example, urine test kits should have AS4308 and breathalysers with AS3547 accreditations. Through consistent testing, companies can effectively prevent untoward incidents and deter substance abuse. Earlier detection can also help affected employees receive the necessary intervention and treatment assistance.