Drugs testing. It can enhance safety in any workplace, but in safety-critical industries it is absolutely essential. Safety-critical industries are defined as those which must ensure the highest levels of safety integrity. Failure to do so could lead to the most serious consequences – loss of life, property or plant damage and even environmental destruction.

Anyone operating machinery, handling vehicles or working in chemical or power plants while under the influence of drugs could pose a threat to themselves as well as other employees and members of the public.

Alcohol and drugs testing protects staff and ensures that an employer’s duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act are adhered to. However, with numerous options available it is not always immediately apparent which drug testing method will best meet the requirements for companies. Therefore, having a good understanding of the pros and cons of each process before reaching any conclusions on future test policy should be any company’s first port of call before making a commitment to using a specific test method.

Suzannah Robin is a drug safety expert at AlcoDigital. She works with dozens of corporate and governmental organisations addressing their drug testing needs. For more than 15 years she has helped numerous businesses to implement drug testing policies for their staff through certified training programmes. These include the correct use of safety equipment, accurately interpreting results and spotting the different signs and symptoms of drug misuse. She said:

“We find that many companies may already have an idea of the type of drug test they would like to implement. However, when we start getting into the details of the benefits and restrictions of each version, we soon establish that the first choice isn’t always the best for their particular requirements.”

So what should employers be looking out for when comparison shopping for drug testing kits?

Suzannah suggests that the first question to ask is, what type of information does the kit provide?

“In safety-critical industries, look out for tests which tell you if the subject is currently under the influence of drugs.”

For this, saliva testing is the most reliable method for drugs testing.

Drug testing with saliva has the following benefits:

  • It confirms if the person being testing is currently under the influence of drugs
  • It is less likely to become contaminated with other substances

Suzannah also states the importance of looking at the test’s cut-off level for each drug.

The cut-off level determines how much of a drug can be present in the system before it is detected by the test. The lower the cut-off level, the more sensitive the kit.

“If the cut-off level for THC (cannabis) is 10 ng/ml of saliva, then if there is less than 10ng/ml of saliva the kit won’t detect it. This means that a device that cuts off at 10ng will be more accurate than a device at 50ng. It’s essentially five times as sensitive.”

One of the most popular and widespread methods used for workplace testing is carried out via obtaining urine samples. For many years these have been a reliable and cost-effective form of drug testing providing instant results that can be undertaken in-house.  

Whilst urine tests are ideal for implementing random testing policies, and can help to prevent incidents from happening in the first place, this form of testing is not without its limitations.  Suzannah explains:

“Urine tests will not reveal if an individual has consumed drugs in the last two hours.  Therefore, in the event any incident did take place a urine sample will not confirm if the employee was impaired by drugs at the time it occurred.”

In 2015, the UK police force introduced roadside saliva tests for detecting drugs in drivers.  Suzannah explains why saliva tests are a natural choice for the police when determining cause.

“The police will be looking to establish if an incident was as a result of the driver being impaired by drugs.  In order to determine this, they will need a method of testing that indicates a higher probability that the drugs detected were taken recently.   

“Aside from taking a blood test, a saliva sample is the only other method of drug testing that will produce a positive result if the individual had taken drugs in the last two hours but, more importantly, unlike urine testing, which detects drugs taken weeks ago, it will not reveal a positive result for any drugs that may have been taken more than 48 hours ago, which makes it the most reliable method for determining the cause of an incident. This is why we would recommend that companies with employees operating heavy machinery or driving vehicles adopt this testing method as part of their best practice policy.”

AlcoDigital provides free reviews for companies looking to implement drug and alcohol policies. Please visit www.alcodigital.co.uk for more information.

By Alison