Alcohol Urine Screen and Breath Testing in the Workplace
04 July, 2023
Alcohol urine screen and breath testing are common methods for detecting alcohol use or impairment in the workplace. Employers use these procedures because they are quick and give immediate results. Moreover, each type has advantages and disadvantages. A urine test kit can trace alcohol and other drugs within 12 to 24 hours from the last intake. Meanwhile, a breathalyser can detect and measure blood alcohol levels for also 12 to 24 hours.
In many workplaces, alcohol use can pose a serious safety risk. Severe impairment causes a person to lose control of their physical and mental faculties, which can have grievous consequences. For this reason, employers take measures to prevent untoward incidents. It includes regular screening to ensure employees are not under the influence of alcohol. This article will guide you on the importance of alcohol testing in the workplace and how urine and breath tests work.
Importance of Alcohol Urine Screen and Breath Testing
Alcohol urine screening and breath testing are efficient methods for workplace safety. High-risk industries implement these measures to manage alcohol-related hazards. For instance, it helps ensure workers are physically and mentally fit when operating heavy machinery or driving vehicles. Through a comprehensive policy, employers can minimise these risks and help them comply with relevant legislation and regulations.
A company policy communicates to employees the expectations of conduct while at work. It also includes when to test and the testing method for each situation. Furthermore, it covers the consequences of policy violation. An example is if an employee has a high Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) or percentage of alcohol in the body.
Consistent monitoring helps a workplace maintain a safer environment and avoid costly mistakes. Moreover, it helps protect an employer against potential lawsuits when accidents occur as a result of negligence. In the long run, these tests help improve productivity, boost morale, and minimise losses. Therefore, it is a worthwhile investment for companies.
When to Test
- Pre-employment: determine if a job candidate has harmful alcohol-related behaviours. Passing the test is one of the conditions to be eligible for a safety-sensitive job.
- Post-incident: determine if alcohol is a factor in the accident. It is best to test concerned employees within 2 to 4 hours.
- Reasonable suspicion: test for employees showing intoxication symptoms at work.
- Post-treatment: confirm sobriety for employees returning after a leave of absence due to treatment or rehabilitation.
- Periodic/Blanket: regular alcohol testing as part of physical examination. The test applies to all employees.
- Random: test without prior announcement. It helps check employees with impairment and deter alcohol use.
Types of Alcohol Urine Screen
A urine screening for alcohol looks for ethanol and its metabolites. Alcohol can show up in urine within an hour after consumption. There are two kinds of urine tests. First is rapid screening using immunoassay test strips. It uses antibodies to detect alcohol. It is a primary method that needs further confirmation if the result is non-negative.
The second type is Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). It combines two techniques to quantify the compounds in a sample. It can detect small traces of alcohol. Therefore, it is considered the gold standard in drug or alcohol testing. Moreover, the test can detect ethyl glucuronide or EtG. It is a byproduct of ethanol after the body processes alcohol.
GC-MS urine test requires laboratory analysis. It takes longer to get results but is more accurate and reliable. Employers use this test to confirm a preliminary screen. A Medical Review Officer (MRO) evaluates the specimen to validate the results as actual consumption and not incidental exposure to alcohol.
Advantages and Disadvantages
An advantage of urine analysis is it is relatively inexpensive to detect alcohol consumption. Advanced tests can trace alcohol for up to 80 hours. It is suitable for pre-employment or monitoring individuals in recovery from alcohol addiction. Additionally, it can be used simultaneously with drug screening.
Urine tests also have some disadvantages. Some people may have difficulty producing a sample. Various factors can influence the test, such as hydration levels. Thus, it is susceptible to tampering and getting false positives or negatives. Lastly, it can have privacy issues if a monitor supervises the sample collection procedure.
Breath Testing – Alternative to Alcohol Urine Screening
Breath testing is another method to screen for alcohol in the workplace. It is a non-invasive method that measures the BAC level through a breath sample. A breathalyser device captures the exhaled air and analyses it through the sensors. It undergoes a chemical reaction process and produces small electrical currents based on the concentration of alcohol in the system.
Alcohol is detectable in the breath within a few minutes after consumption. A breathalyser can detect alcohol for 12 to 24 hours after the last intake based on the amount. Therefore, it is suitable for detecting current recent use or impairment. Furthermore, sample collection is easier and more convenient than an alcohol urine screen.
A breathalyser can return the results within 10 to 15 seconds. It is also reusable, making it cost-efficient for workplace testing. Workplaces use fuel cell breathalysers to ensure high accuracy. It is specific to ethanol and is not subject to interference by other endogenous substances like acetone. Hence, it is less likely to produce false positives.
A breathalyser is portable and easy to operate. Devices like BACtrack have a one-touch operation for quick and efficient testing. In addition, it can be used anywhere without issues of privacy. It also does not require laboratory analysis to complete the procedure. However, employers may use advanced tests to verify the results.
There are some important considerations in breath testing. Firstly, it is essential to wait 15 minutes after eating, drinking, or smoking to get a precise air sample. Secondly, breathalysers require regular recalibration to maintain sensor performance. Lastly, a breath test must be conducted in a room free from smoke or vapour.
Alcohol urine screening and breath tests are reliable ways to detect alcohol in a person. Each method has different procedures and advantages. Both can help workplaces enhance safety and prevent alcohol-related hazards and accidents. They can be used in different situations, depending on the purpose of the test. For instance, EtG urine tests can detect alcohol for an extended period. Therefore, it can help diagnose if a person has alcohol addiction.
On the other hand, a breath test is simple and non-invasive. A breathalyser calculates the BAC or alcohol level from the expelled air from the lungs. Thus, it is accurate and reliable in monitoring alcohol intoxication in the workplace. Due to its convenience and ease of use, it is the standard method used in various settings or testing programs. In conclusion, alcohol urine screening and breath testing are both effective in determining intoxication levels.