With health and safety being of paramount concern across industrial sectors, owing to the high-risk working environments and frequent use of heavy machinery, employees and contractors are being subjected to alcohol and drug testing before they are allowed to enter company premises, says drug and alcohol testing equipment supplier ALCO-Safe.
“Alcohol and drug testing are an integral part of a company’s health and safety policies, as alcohol and drug use lead to negligence and a lack of care for rules and procedures,” says ALCO-Safe director Rhys Evans.
He explains that regardless of how good a company’s safety procedures are, a person under the influence of alcohol or drugs might cause an accident or incident – either by not following those procedures or as a result of poor decision-making.
Evans mentions that companies can test for drugs in a number of ways, and one of the better known methods is urine testing. However, there are several challenges to using this method. “Firstly, it requires a person of the same sex to accompany the employee to the bathroom, secondly, the process is very time consuming and thirdly, employees may claim it infringes on a person’s privacy.”
Drugs in a person’s blood are metabolised by the liver, explains Evans. The metabolite of the drug then remains and is slowly excreted when a person urinates. He points out that the results of a urine test are based on the presence of metabolite. Urine testing, therefore, reflects a longer history of drug use because it has a far longer window period of detection than that of a saliva test.
The company explains that despite this method seeming better owing to its long-term detection of drugs in a person’s system, the saliva method, because of its shorter window of detection, in most cases enables companies to identify employees who are drug addicts rather than those who are recreational users, which is useful. Saliva tests detect the parent compound, which is only present for a short amount of time after use of the drug. The point is to detect the employees who are dependent on drugs and to provide them with the necessary support and help.
The window of detection for saliva testing ranges between 12 and 48 hours. Therefore, if an employee tests positive on a Wednesday or Thursday, the presumption would be that the employee has a drug-use problem and requires assistance because he/she is using drugs during the week. In this case, the company may consider sending them for rehabilitation. It is less likely that a recreational user would test positive because of the shorter window of detection with a saliva test.
An employee who has a drug-dependency problem will use drugs every day and is more likely to be a higher risk to the safety of fellow employees, notes Evans, adding that as such employees “use drugs every day, they would more often than not be the people who will test positive when a company uses saliva tests”.
Additionally, he asserts that it is important to involve unions and promote education to combat drug and alcohol addiction in the workplace. Often, when unions and employees are not involved, they are not properly informed of regulations and protocol and, therefore, employees come to the conclusion that testing is being done to catch members out so that they can be dismissed.
“If unions are involved from the beginning, then the reasons for safety, and the dangers of drug abuse to the company, employees and their communities can be clearly explained and demonstrated – this will go a long way towards launching the drug and alcohol testing successfully, and it encourages smooth implementation.”
Drug testing decreases the number of accidents, sick-leave days taken, machine breakages and time-wasting procedures; it also reduces loss of production and employee turnover, with an increase in productivity, Evans concludes.