In the workplace, alcohol testing is used for only a few reasons. For some federally regulated workers (e.g. CDL drivers), random alcohol testing is required. For others, alcohol testing can also be random, but more often it is conducted post-accident, for suspicion or for site access. The aim of this test is to promote a safe and productive work environment, where employees can perform their duties without putting themselves or others at risk.
There are different methods of alcohol testing, including breath alcohol tests, urine tests, blood tests, saliva tests and even hair tests. Breath tests are the most commonly used method, as they are non-invasive and provide quick results, and are a recognized test for current impairment. Blood tests are just as accurate but are also very invasive. Saliva tests are also reliable, non-invasive and easy to administer. Hair and urine tests are different.
The frequency of alcohol testing can vary depending on the workplace policy, but it is often performed randomly or as a condition of employment. Some employers may also conduct testing after a workplace incident or if they suspect an employee of being under the influence.
It is important to note that alcohol is legal, and off-duty use is protected. But impairment at work can be a huge problem. Employers must have a clear written policy in place, communicate it to all employees, and ensure that the testing is performed in a fair and unbiased manner.
Overall, workplace alcohol testing is a valuable tool for promoting a safe and productive work environment, but it must be conducted in a responsible and respectful manner.
Why Is Workplace Alcohol Screening Important?
Workplace alcohol screening is important for several reasons:
- Safety: Alcohol can impair an individual’s judgment, reaction time, and motor skills, making them a potential hazard in the workplace, especially in jobs that require operating machinery, driving or performing other safety-sensitive tasks. Alcohol screening helps to identify individuals who may be under the influence of alcohol and prevent them from putting themselves or others at risk.
- Compliance with laws and regulations: Workplace alcohol testing is often required by law for certain industries, such as transportation, and employers must comply with these regulations to avoid fines or legal penalties.
- Workplace culture and morale: Workplace alcohol screening can help to create a safe and healthy work environment and promote a culture of sobriety and professionalism.
- Productivity: Individuals who use alcohol excessively can experience a range of negative effects, such as decreased motivation and focus, absenteeism, and decreased productivity. Alcohol screening helps to identify these individuals and provide them with the support they need to overcome their substance abuse problem and return to work.
- Protecting company assets: Alcohol and substance abuse can lead to theft, fraud, and other forms of misconduct in the workplace, putting company assets and reputation at risk. Alcohol screening helps to identify individuals who may be engaged in such behaviors and provide them with the support they need to overcome their substance abuse problem.
It’s important to note that workplace alcohol screening must be conducted in a manner that is consistent with relevant laws and regulations, such as those related to privacy and consent, and that employees have the right to challenge the results of an alcohol test and have procedures in place to handle such disputes in a fair and impartial manner.
Having said that, for employees regulated by the US Department of Transportation, not only is consent not required for breath alcohol testing, it is actually forbidden.
The Urine Specimen Collection Guidelines clearly state:
No one (including collection site personnel or the collector) is permitted to require an employee to sign a consent, release, or waiver of liability, or indemnification agreement with respect to any part of the drug testing process. Collection sites (clinics) may not use “generic” consent forms for DOT-required urine specimen collections, even if their clinic policy requires consent from the general patient population. (page 9)
What are the laws and regulations to comply with when it comes to workplace alcohol testing?
The laws and regulations related to workplace alcohol testing vary by state and jurisdiction, but some common regulations that employers must comply with include:
- Privacy and consent: Unless employees are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation, employers must obtain the informed consent of employees before conducting alcohol testing, and they must comply with privacy laws that govern the collection, use, and storage of personal information.
- Reasonable suspicion: In many jurisdictions, employers may only conduct alcohol testing if they have a reasonable suspicion that an employee is under the influence of alcohol. This means that the employer must have objective evidence that the employee is impaired, such as observed behavior, or odor of alcohol on the breath.
- Due process: Employees have the right to challenge the results of an alcohol test and have procedures in place to handle such disputes in a fair and impartial manner.
- Right Technician, Right Device: Breath alcohol testing should be conducted only by individuals properly trained, and for federal testing, certified. Breath testing devices used for federal testing must be listed on the NHTSA Conforming Products List. This is good practice for non-DOT employment breath alcohol tests too.
- Record keeping: Employers must keep accurate records of their workplace alcohol testing program, including the results of tests and any disputes that may arise.
It’s important for employers to familiarize themselves with the laws and regulations related to workplace alcohol testing in their jurisdiction and to seek advice if they have any questions or concerns. Non-compliance with workplace alcohol testing regulations can result in fines, legal penalties, and damage to an organization’s reputation.
What are the different types of alcohol testing?
There are several types of alcohol testing methods that are commonly used, including:
- Breath alcohol test: A breathalyzer™ test measures the amount of alcohol in a person’s breath, providing an estimate of their blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Breath Alcohol Concentration (BrAC) is equivalent to Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC).
- Blood test: A blood test is an equally accurate method of measuring BAC, but is also the most invasive and typically requires a blood sample to be tested in a laboratory.
- Urine test: A urine test can detect the presence of alcohol and its metabolites, which are substances produced by the body as it breaks down alcohol. Urine alcohol tests are not tests for current impairment.
- Saliva test: A saliva test is a non-invasive method of testing for the presence of alcohol that involves collecting a saliva sample from the individual. The US DOT recognizes saliva testing for initial screening, so a saliva test for alcohol is considered reliable.
- Hair test: A hair test can detect the presence of alcohol in a person’s hair and provide a longer-term record of alcohol consumption, as alcohol remains in head hair for up to 90 days.
The type of alcohol test used can depend on the situation and the purpose of the test, as well as the legal and regulatory requirements in the jurisdiction where the test is being conducted.
Breath Alcohol Testing
Breath Alcohol Testing is the most common method of testing for alcohol consumption in the workplace. The test is quick, non-invasive, and provides immediate results, making it a popular choice among employers. It works by measuring the level of alcohol in a person’s breath, which is an indicator of the amount of alcohol in their bloodstream.
Breath Alcohol Testing is typically performed using an EBT, or Evidential Breath Test device, which is a portable device that can be easily administered on the job site. The employee blows into the breathalyzer, and the device provides a reading of their breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) level. Its results are defensible as a test for current impairment. In most states, a result of .08 can earn you a DUI. For CDL drivers, .04 is a serious violation. In their written policies, employers should document what level is a violation of company policy.
Employers use Breath Alcohol Testing to ensure the safety of their workplace and to promote a productive working environment. It can be performed randomly or as a condition of employment, and in some cases, it may be conducted after a workplace incident or if an employer suspects an employee of being under the influence.
Blood alcohol test
Blood alcohol testing is a method of measuring the level of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream, and it is rarely used in workplace alcohol testing programs. The test measures the actual alcohol in the bloodstream and must be conducted in a laboratory, so results are not immediate. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requires blood alcohol testing post-accident.
Blood alcohol testing requires a blood sample to be taken from the individual, either by a healthcare professional or at a laboratory. The sample is then analyzed to determine the individual’s BAC, which can provide information on their level of impairment and ability to perform their job duties safely.
It’s important to note that blood alcohol testing is a regulated process, and employers must comply with relevant laws and regulations, such as those related to privacy and consent, when conducting alcohol testing in the workplace. And they must ensure that a proper chain of custody is maintained. Additionally, employees have the right to challenge the results of a blood alcohol test, and employers must have procedures in place to handle such disputes in a fair and impartial manner.
Saliva alcohol test
Saliva alcohol testing is a method of detecting the presence of alcohol in a person’s saliva, aka oral fluid, and can be used in workplace drug and alcohol testing programs. The test is considered to be a non-invasive method of alcohol testing, as it does not require a blood or urine sample.
Saliva alcohol testing is typically performed by collecting a saliva sample from the individual, either by having them swab their mouth or by using a specialized device. The sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis, where it is tested for the presence of alcohol using a specific method, such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) or gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).
There are also DOT-approved instant saliva alcohol screening devices, which can be used to reliably rule out alcohol impairment. A non-negative result, however, must be confirmed with a lab-based test, or a breath alcohol test.
There are several benefits to saliva alcohol testing, including:
- Non-invasive: As mentioned, saliva alcohol testing is a non-invasive method of testing that does not require a blood or urine sample.
- Convenient: Saliva alcohol testing is quick and easy to perform, and negative results can be obtained within a few minutes if an instant test is conducted.
- Accurate: Saliva alcohol testing can provide accurate results, as it directly measures the level of alcohol in the saliva, which is directly related to the alcohol level in the bloodstream.
- Tamper-resistant: Saliva alcohol testing is less susceptible to tampering or adulteration than other methods, such as urine testing, as the sample can be collected under direct supervision.
Hair alcohol test (EtG)
Hair alcohol testing is a method of detecting the presence of alcohol and its metabolites in a person’s hair sample. The test is considered to be a long-term method of alcohol testing, as it can detect the presence of alcohol and its metabolites for several months after consumption.
The procedure for a hair alcohol test typically involves collecting a hair sample from the individual, typically a sample of approximately 1.5 inches long taken from the scalp. The hair sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis, where it is tested for the presence of alcohol metabolites using a specific method, such as gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).
In terms of efficiency, hair alcohol testing can provide reliable results and can detect the presence of alcohol metabolites for several months after consumption. This makes it a useful method of testing for individuals who are in zero-tolerance programs.
Urine alcohol test
Urine alcohol testing is not recommended for workplace testing. Urine alcohol tests do not measure current impairment and can detect very low levels of alcohol for as long as several days after consumption. And a urine alcohol test for ethanol can also produce a “false positives” for individuals with certain medical conditions (e.g., diabetes).
Urine alcohol testing is a method of detecting the presence of alcohol and its metabolites in a person’s urine sample. The test is considered to be a non-invasive method of alcohol testing, but it is not used often in workplace drug and alcohol testing programs.
The procedure for a urine alcohol test typically involves collecting a urine sample from the individual, which is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. The laboratory will use a specific method to detect the presence of alcohol and its metabolites in the urine sample, such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) or gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).
In terms of efficiency, urine alcohol testing can detect the presence of alcohol and its metabolites for several days after consumption. This means that an employee can have some beers over the weekend and test positive for alcohol during the week.
Ethanol vs. EtG
An important distinction to understand, is the difference between a urine test for Ethanol and an EtG Urine alcohol test.
A urine alcohol test for ethanol checks for actual alcohol, and can be combined with a urine test for drugs. This type of test is often used for probation testing, court ordered testing or zero tolerance programs where alcohol consumption is prohibited. A common example is a urine specimen five panel drug test plus ethanol (or urine alcohol).
EtG is a direct metabolite of alcohol. Its presence in urine indicates recent ethanol consumption, even after the point when ethanol is no longer measurable directly. The presence of EtG in urine indicates that ethanol was consumed and has an up to 80 hour detection window.
EtG alcohol testing is very popular with court ordered testing and other zero tolerance alcohol abstinence programs including repeat DUI offenders or child custody cases where alcohol abuse is a concern with one or both parents.
The main purpose of the EtG testing with urine or hair is to confirm alcohol abstinence.
Consuming food products with alcohol can cause a positive EtG test. And many environmental or home products contain alcohol which could trigger a positive EtG result. Examples include aftershave, hair dye, hygiene products like antiperspirant, mouthwashes, hand sanitizer, breath sprays, cleaning products, cosmetics, or foods prepared with or flavored with alcohol.
It’s very important to note that urine alcohol testing may not be suitable for all individuals or situations, as some individuals may have medical conditions that can interfere with the results.
Urine alcohol testing is not recommended for employment testing.