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Employer Drug and Alcohol Testing: Purpose, Types, and Results

14 November, 2023

A document for employee agreement and consent to testing with testing materials and a pen on top

Substance abuse in the workplace can lead to accidents and decreased productivity. To prevent these issues, employer drug and alcohol testing programs are implemented. These aim to ensure a safe workplace, promote productivity, and identify those with substance use disorders. Companies may use urine, saliva, blood, hair, and alcohol breath tests to detect substance use. Some commonly tested substances are ethanol, marijuana, and opioids. A positive result indicates a violation of the company policy.

Employers must maintain a safe workplace. This allows them to mitigate legal risks and comply with the relevant laws and regulations. To ensure this, they may also implement education awareness programs and increase support for those identified with misusing substances. Altogether, this can help deter employees from irresponsible consumption of medication, liquor and illicit substances. This article will present the purpose, types, and results of company substance use screening.

The Purpose of Employer Drug and Alcohol Testing

Employer drug and alcohol testing serves several crucial purposes in the workplace. Firstly, it helps ensure the workplace safety and the well-being of all employees. By identifying employees who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, employers can prevent accidents, injuries, and potential harm to themselves or others. This is crucial for high-risk industries where safety is a top priority, such as transportation, mining, and construction.

Secondly, alcohol and drug testing promotes productivity and efficiency within the company. Workers who abuse liquor, medication, or illicit drugs are more likely to have decreased job performance, absenteeism, tardiness, and increased work-related risks. Implementing drug and alcohol testing programs can serve as a deterrent for employees who misuse substances. This helps maintain a professional and responsible work environment.

Lastly, regular screening can help employers identify those who may need assistance or intervention for substance abuse disorders. This allows them to provide the necessary support and resources for treatment and recovery. They may provide counselling services and Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).

Reasons to Conduct a Test

Companies may conduct tests for several reasons. Here are some of them:

  • Pre-employment testing enables companies to identify potential employees prone to reckless behaviours. It helps them appoint the best applicants to safety-critical positions.
  • Companies may also screen workers with reasonable suspicion of intoxication or impairment. Outward signs may include erratic behaviour, slurred speech, and uncoordinated movements.
  • Employers also conduct workplace drug and ethanol testing at random. They may select applicants using computer programs for unannounced testing.
  • Organisations screen workers involved in accidents or near-misses. This provides them with evidence to determine the causes of such incidents.

A lab technician analysing a urine sample

Types of Methods of Employer Drug and Alcohol Testing

Companies may use several testing procedures for employer drug and alcohol testing. Urine drug and ethanol screening is the standard for workplace testing. Urine samples carry traces of substance for up to 24 hours. Moreover, using ethyl glucuronide (EtG) extends the window for ethanol detection to 80 hours.

Oral fluid testing has a detection window of up to 12 hours. Professionals often conduct this during onsite testing because of the convenient saliva collection procedure. They gather saliva samples from under the tongue or inside the cheek. Meanwhile, hair follicle testing requires 100 to 200 hair strands, which the collection team transports for laboratory testing. It traces the substances that people consume within 90 days.

Moreover, blood tests are the most accurate method. Typically, it has a detection period of 12 hours. However, Phosphatidylethanol (PEth) and Carbohydrate-Deficient Transferrin (CDT) tests extend the detection of ethanol to weeks. Lastly, companies use breath tests to measure the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) levels of a worker. Using breathalysers allows for detection of alcohol consumption within 24 hours.

Common Substances that are Tested for

Companies may request drug and alcohol testing services to detect various substances. This is generally included in the workplace policy for transparency and clarity. Ethanol is the foremost substance they test for. This is the active ingredient found in most alcoholic beverages. Furthermore, employers may screen for misuse of prescription medication and illegal drugs.

Some of the tested substances are marijuanacocaine, amphetamines, opioids, and phencyclidine. These are commonly abused substances that cause impairment to the individual. This increases the risks of accidents and reckless behaviours. In addition, some companies test for barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and methadone.

A professional explaining the results of a drug and alcohol test

Implications of a Positive Result in Employer Drug and Alcohol Testing

A positive result in an employer drug and alcohol testing can have significant implications for both the employee and the employer. This is why the company must ensure the privacy and confidentiality of the results report. Furthermore, it is ideal if they allow confirmatory testing to eliminate the chance of the initial report being a false positive.

For the employee, a non-negative result can indicate a violation of the agreed-upon company drug and alcohol policy. They may face disciplinary action, which can range from warnings to termination. This may have long-term consequences for their career prospects, as a positive result can be reported to future employers. In addition, it may impact their reputation and social standing.

Meanwhile, for the employer, a positive substance use result may raise concerns about workplace health and safety. This may impact workplace productivity and increase loss. They may also face increased insurance costs and potential legal liabilities if the impairment leads to an accident or injury. Furthermore, it may lead to lower morale and necessitate additional steps, such as drug and alcohol awareness programs and other forms of EAPs.

Is There a Possibility of a False Positive

Substance use testing procedures are not 100% accurate. While these tests can detect the presence of substances, there is a possibility of false positive results. Several factors may produce false positives, including certain medications, foods, and dietary supplements. In addition, secondhand exposure to substances and use of products with trace amounts of ethanol may lead to false positive results.

Furthermore, faulty testing procedures or equipment malfunction may result in inaccurate reports. Employers must contact reliable screening services that follow strict protocols with an experienced team of collectors. This reduces the possibility of sample contamination and tampering.

Conclusion

Employer drug and alcohol testing is crucial for maintaining workplace safety. This is crucial for all businesses, especially high-risk industries, to comply with relevant standards and laws. These companies must protect everyone in the workplace from employees to visitors. Testing allows them to determine whether an individual is fit to work. Furthermore, it enables them to detect substance misuse within working hours. Lastly, it provides them with evidence after accidents or near-misses.

Companies may use several testing methods to detect substance use. Urine, breath, saliva, hair, and blood tests are the options that companies select from. Urine, breath, and saliva tests are often used for initial testing. Meanwhile, blood and hair tests are used in confirmatory testing. However, companies must contact reliable testing services to avoid false positives. Moreover, they must maintain confidentiality and prevent privacy issues. Some companies may benefit from workplace breathalysers available in Breathalysers Australia.

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