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Drug Test: A Guide to a Drug-Free Working Environment

08 February, 2024

A drug test form and a sample collection container

Maintaining a drug-free working environment is crucial for the success and safety of both employees and employers. Implementing drug tests is a proactive measure that organisations can take to ensure a safe workplace. These tests are used to detect illegal drugs in the body. Therefore, employers can identify persons who are at risk of accidents and other safety hazards. In addition, a comprehensive testing program guides employees on the expectations with regard to illicit drugs and alcohol.

Illicit drug use poses significant health and safety concerns to the individual and the public. It can severely impair the physical and mental functioning of a person, leading to health problems and poor work performance. It is also prevalent in many industries. Thus, awareness of these risks and testing measures help minimise untoward incidents. This article will present essential information about drug and alcohol testing, test methods, and where to avail of these services.

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What Is a Drug Test?

A drug test is a scientific analysis of biological specimens, such as urine, saliva, blood, or hair, to determine the presence of drugs or alcohol in the body. It uses specialised testing equipment to collect and analyse the samples. Moreover, it undergoes several processes, including the initial screening and quantification. The first stage involves using an immunoassay test kit to detect substances.

The preliminary screening produces qualitative results. Typically, if the result is negative (no drugs present), the test concludes here. However, if the result is non-negative (drugs present), further confirmatory testing is necessary to determine the specific drugs and their concentrations in the body. The samples are forwarded to a laboratory and undergo more advanced analysis techniques.

Furthermore, a positive test result indicates a person has consumed drugs within the past days or weeks. Each type of test has specified detection windows and cut-off levels. This means that drugs or their metabolites can stay in the system within a certain time frame. In addition, the cut-off level is the threshold concentration of a drug that must be present in the sample to generate a positive indication.

Significance and Purpose

  • The purpose of drug screening is to identify individuals who may be using illicit substances that can impair their ability to perform their jobs safely and effectively.
  • Screen job applicants for substance abuse issues. It is crucial for positions with a safety-sensitive nature, such as driving or operating heavy machinery.
  • Comply with legal obligations and industry standards, particularly in high-risk industries such as mining, transportation, and construction.
  • The significance of the test is that it helps minimise the risk of workplace accidents and injuries.
  • Determine individuals with substance use disorder and offer the necessary support or intervention.
  • Deter drug abuse among employees.

A pen on top of a consent form

What to Expect During a Drug Test?

When undergoing a workplace drug test, there are several procedures and protocols that individuals can expect to encounter. These may vary depending on the type of test and company policies. Primarily, it involves the collection process and the interpretation of results. Before the test, the testing personnel briefly explains the purpose of the test and the procedures involved. They may also ask the individual to sign a consent form.

The next step is the collection of specimens. The person provides a sample, such as urine, and submits it for analysis. Tests with non-negative results undergo further laboratory testing. A medical professional reviews the test and interprets whether the person has consumed illicit substances or misused over-the-counter or prescription drugs.

While waiting for the final results, an employer may prohibit the concerned employee from working, driving, or engaging in high-risk activities. Furthermore, a person who fails the test is subject to disciplinary action or legal consequences. Similarly, a job applicant may not be eligible for employment.

How To Prepare for Testing

To prepare for a drug test, it is important to carefully follow the instructions provided by the testing facility or employer. They may advise employees to refrain from eating certain foods or drinking alcohol for a period. During the test, individuals must wash their hands thoroughly and follow other sanitary measures.

Additionally, if a person takes any medications, they should disclose this information to the testing personnel. Also, it is essential to notify the administrator of any medical condition or allergies that could affect the test outcomes. Likewise, staying hydrated is important, but individuals should not overdo it to prevent dilution of samples like urine.

A breathalyser showing a pass screen

Breathalyser Drug Tests for Alcohol Detection

In addition to conducting a drug test, many workplaces also implement alcohol screening. This method aims to identify individuals who may be working under the influence of alcohol. It uses a breathalyser device to detect alcohol in the breath sample. Moreover, it can measure Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) or the intoxication level of a person.

Breath testing is a non-invasive method of determining recent alcohol consumption. This is because alcohol is detectable in the breath a few minutes after intake and lasts up to 12 to 24 hours. In addition, the breathalyser can give rapid results, allowing employers to take appropriate actions. This type of test is valuable in industries where sobriety is critical, such as transportation or manufacturing.

During a breathalyser test, the individual blows into the device, which then analyses the sample. If the reading exceeds a specified threshold, it indicates that a person may be significantly impaired. However, companies with a zero-tolerance program may consider any amount of alcohol in the system a violation of the policy.

Breathalyser Accuracy

The accuracy of a breathalyser can vary depending on several factors. Mainly, it depends on the type of sensor used. Workplace or professional breathalyser utilises a fuel cell sensor. This type offers high accuracy due to its specificity to ethanol. It is not reactive to endogenous substances like acetone, minimising the risk of false positives.

Another factor that can affect the precision of the device is calibration. Breathalysers require periodic recalibration to maintain the optimal performance of the sensors. It ensures that the device is functioning properly and provides reliable results. Following the operating guidelines is vital to prevent user errors.

A person handing over urine samples

Urine Drug Tests

A urine drug test is a standard type of drug detection method. It involves collecting a urine sample and analysing it for the presence of drugs or their metabolites. It is often preferred by many workplaces because of its efficiency and capability to detect a wide range of substances. Moreover, this test can trace drugs for a few days to a week, offering an extended detection window.

The procedure of specimen collection involves specific guidelines or protocols to ensure its integrity. In some cases, the testing facility may supervise the urine collection to prevent tampering. After the sampling, the administrators may screen the specimen on-site using test kits or send it to a laboratory.

The results of a urine drug screen are usually available within a few hours or days. However, it would depend on the type of testing and the number of persons undergoing the screening. If the test comes back positive, it may indicate drug use within a specific period. Nevertheless, it is important to note that a positive result does not necessarily mean that an individual was impaired while on duty.

Benefits of Urine Tests

  • Urine testing is less invasive and easy to administer. However, it requires a private facility to collect the specimen.
  • It provides quick and reliable results, allowing for immediate detection of drug use.
  • Urine testing can help identify substance abuse problems and serve as a deterrent for individuals.
  • It can serve as a screening tool for various purposes, such as pre-employment and random monitoring.
  • It can identify various types of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamine substances.
  • Urine test kits are affordable and easily accessible. This makes it a cost-effective option, especially for small businesses who need to test their employees.

A woman undergoing oral fluid collection

Saliva Drug Tests

An oral fluid or saliva drug test is another method to detect drug usage. Traces of drug metabolites are detectable in saliva samples within a few hours up to two days after ingestion. Hence, it can serve as a reliable indicator of recent consumption. It has become an increasingly popular alternative due to its non-invasive nature.

This type of test involves swabbing the inner cheek, gums, and tongue using an absorbent stick or pad. It requires placing the collection tool inside the mouth for a predetermined time to allow the saliva to be absorbed. After obtaining an adequate sample, the test administrator places it in the testing device for immediate analysis.

The test is suitable in situations where determining recent drug use is vital, such as post-accident and reasonable suspicion cases. Furthermore, saliva drug screening can identify the common drugs of abuse, which can be more limited than urine. Nevertheless, it is a cost-effective measure for monitoring the workplace for recreational drugs.

Advantages of Saliva Tests

Saliva testing offers several advantages for the detection of illicit substances. Firstly, it is non-invasive and easy to administer. Collecting a saliva specimen is simple and does not require any special training or facilities. Secondly, it is more secure and less disruptive. It can be conducted under the close supervision of a collector.

Lastly, saliva tests provide quick results, usually within minutes, allowing for immediate decision-making if necessary. It is useful to determine if drug usage is a factor that led to an incident. It is also convenient for on-site testing. Overall, the straightforward process minimises the likelihood of adulteration or contamination.

A lab technician placing hair samples into a petri dish

Hair Drug Tests

A hair drug test is a type of screening method that can trace drug or alcohol metabolites for a particularly long period. This test can provide evidence of drug use for up to 90 days. Therefore, it can help determine if a person is a chronic user or has substance abuse problems.

This type of test involves collecting a small sample of hair near the crown. The hair sample can also be obtained from other body parts if head hair is unavailable. Moreover, the principle behind hair testing is that after drug ingestion, they enter the bloodstream and into the hair follicle. As hair grows, the metabolites become deposited in the hair shafts, providing a historical record of drug use.

One of the main advantages of hair testing is that it is difficult to tamper with. The hair structure remains stable and is not easily affected by external contaminants. However, there are some limitations to consider. For instance, it is not suitable for instant testing, as the process requires laboratory methods.

Other Uses of Hair Follicle Tests

Hair follicle tests are beneficial in various fields. One significant application is in forensic investigations. Hair follicles contain genetic material that can help identify individuals. Thus, it can provide valuable information in identifying suspects or victims, determining the presence of toxins or poisons, and establishing a timeline of events.

Additionally, hair tests are common in paternity testing. It is also vital in medical settings for diagnosing certain medical conditions or diseases. For instance, it can determine hormonal imbalances by analysing the levels of specific hormones in the hair. Thus, it can help confirm conditions like thyroid disorders or polycystic ovary syndrome.

Three vials of blood on a form

Blood Drug Tests

Blood drug tests are a more specialised method of testing for illicit substances. This test offers high accuracy, as it can trace drugs in the body with great sensitivity. Moreover, it can detect various substances within an average of 6-48 hours from the last use. This provides a sensitive detection window for recent consumption or impairment.

A blood test involves drawing a small sample of blood from the individual, typically from a vein in the arm. This sample is then sent to a laboratory, where it undergoes a series of tests to identify specific drugs and their amount. For employees, there are minimal preparations for this test. A health professional may advise fasting for a few hours before the test to ensure accurate results.

Aside from workplaces, blood testing is also crucial in legal settings, such as impaired driving and probation programs. It is also often used for confirmation testing if the preliminary screening shows a non-negative result. Due to its high accuracy and reliability, it can give admissible results in court

Pros & Cons of Blood Tests

Pros

  • A blood test is suitable for determining recent drug use in emergency situations or after an accident.
  • It can provide the exact levels of substances in the body.
  • Aside from workplace testing, it is valuable in legal and rehabilitation programs.

Cons

  • It requires a trained professional to perform the test and laboratory equipment for analysis.
  • The collection procedure can be intrusive and uncomfortable for some people.
  • It requires a trained professional to perform the test and laboratory equipment for analysis.
  • It is more costly than other methods.
  • The short detection window is not suitable for abstinence monitoring.

Women waiting for their turn for testing

How Drug Tests Are Conducted in the Workplace

Conducting drug tests in the workplace involved standardised procedures to ensure fairness and accuracy. Firstly, individuals will provide the required biological sample. In on-site testing, a designated facility is provided to secure the samples and minimise the risk of contamination. After collecting the specimens, employees may wait for the initial results.

If the test is negative, employees can return to work immediately. However, if the test indicates the presence of drugs, the samples undergo further laboratory analysis. Individuals are also temporarily forbidden to work until the final result is out. During the confirmation testing, the laboratory will perform advanced procedures like Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). This procedure minimises the possibility of false positives.

A Medical Review Officer (MRO) is responsible for interpreting the results and determining if there is a legitimate medical explanation for any positive findings. Furthermore, the testing process follows a strict chain of custody requirements according to regulatory standards. This includes proper labelling, sealing, and documentation of the specimens throughout the entire process.

Handling Test Results

Handling test results can be a sensitive matter. It requires strict confidentiality and privacy on the part of the employer when informing employees of their results. In addition, only authorised personnel should have access to the data and that they are stored securely.

If an individual tests positive for drugs, it is important for employers to address the issue according to certain protocols in the company policy. It may include a private meeting with the employee to discuss the results and any potential consequences. Depending on the severity of the situation, the employee may face disciplinary actions or even termination.

A pen and testing equipment on a testing consent form

How to Proper Implement Drug Testing in the Workplace

There are specific regulations and protocols involved in the implementation of drug tests in the workplace. The first step is to have a comprehensive drug and alcohol policy. The policy should outline the types of tests, frequency of testing, and consequences for employees who test positive. Moreover, it is important to communicate the policy to the workforce and ensure their complete understanding and agreement.

In addition, organisations should use reliable test providers or devices when conducting the test. It includes getting an accredited laboratory and trained professionals who follow national guidelines, such as the Australian Standards. It is also vital to consider the legal implications of workplace testing. Employers should be familiar with local laws and regulations and ensure that there is no discrimination.

Before starting the test, employers should obtain the signed consent of employees. This is crucial to let people know the purpose of the test and the potential consequences. Furthermore, it is recommended for organisations to provide education and awareness programs regarding drug and alcohol use. Likewise, some may offer rehabilitation and treatment resources through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Can Employees Refuse to Be Tested?

In general, employees can refuse a test even if it is part of the employment agreement or company policy. However, this may depend on the specific laws and regulations of each jurisdiction or industry. Furthermore, refusing to undergo testing can be grounds for disciplinary actions, such as suspension, loss of privileges, or demotion.

Nevertheless, there are certain circumstances where employees may have some legal grounds to refuse a test. For example, they can decline testing if the procedure violates privacy rights or is discriminatory. In these cases, individuals may seek legal recourse to challenge the testing requirement.

A urine sample next to a testing kit

In-House vs Third Party Drug Testing

There are several options that companies can choose from when implementing a drug test. This includes in-house and third-party testing. Both approaches have their advantages and considerations. For in-house testing, it refers to the company having full control over the process and results. They can customise the testing procedures to meet their specific needs and can perform the tests at their convenience.

On the other hand, outsourcing testing services to a third-party provider allows for greater objectivity and impartiality in the testing process. Third-party providers have the expertise and thorough knowledge of testing protocols. They stay up-to-date with the latest methods, technology, and regulations, ensuring compliance with laws. It also eliminates the burden of employers of managing the entire procedure on their own.

Ultimately, the decision depends on various factors such as budget, resources, and specific needs of the company. For smaller companies that require less frequent testing, they may opt for in-house testing to save costs. They can purchase rapid test kits or breathalysers to conduct the tests. However, larger companies or those in high-risk industries may prefer to employ an accredited laboratory for more accurate and reliable results.

Benefits of Buying Drug Test Kits

  • Buying an instant test kit is a cost-effective option compared to a laboratory test.
  • Employers or individuals can facilitate drug screening at any time. Also, it does require laboratory personnel to conduct the test.
  • It can help employers ensure a safe and drug-free workplace by conducting regular screenings.
  • The test kits are easy to use with simple instructions and procedures. It also has an easy guide in interpreting the results.
  • Individuals can screen themselves in the comfort of their homes. This is beneficial for those who are monitoring their medications.
  • Employees may also get a personal breathalyser to manage their alcohol consumption.

Conclusion

Drug tests are an important tool for employers to ensure a safe and drug-free workplace. They help identify individuals with current impairment or those with substance use disorders. Likewise, it helps deter drug abuse among employees. However, implementing these tests is a complex process that requires careful consideration and adherence to legal requirements. As such, it is vital to establish a comprehensive testing program to address the specific needs and requirements of the company.

There are several options available for drug and alcohol testing. The common types are urine, saliva, blood, hair, and breath tests. Each method offers its own advantages and factors that can impact the results, such as accuracy level and detection times. Furthermore, companies may consider other factors, including budgets and resources, in choosing which testing method to use. In-house testing allows for customisation and convenience, while third-party testing offers objectivity and expertise.

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