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Workplace drug testing.

Many businesses consider doing workplace drug testing but do not because of certain misconceptions that the tests are costly, ineffective and easily manipulated by experienced drug users. While it is true that a drug testing program may not be necessary for every company, there are many good reasons why your business should think about having one. Keep in mind that not all drug testing programs are the same. You can gain an edge by knowing when to test, who to test and what laboratory methods to use. The design of a workplace drug testing program is as important as the decision of whether or not to have one. By working together: management, labor, legal and health professionals can help create a working environment that is both safer and more productive.

One of the many reasons businesses institute a workplace drug testing program is in order to meet the strict regulations that government contracts require. There are also many types of job classifications, such as truck drivers, who are subject to Federal regulation. Some may think that the reasons for Federal regulation are to reduce criminal activity; but it is clear that a drug free work environment protects the employer as well as the employee. Imagine how you would feel if you knew the driver of your child's school bus or the driver of the tractor trailer next to you was under the influence of drugs!

It has been shown that companies with workplace drug testing programs have a lower injury rate, increase worker productivity, lower absenteeism, and lower healthcare utilization. Over seventy percent of all current drug users are gainfully employed, so chances are good there is someone with this problem working with you right now. Most workplace testing programs have approximately a seven percent positive rate. Each company is unique, therefore, corporate senior management must assess the costs and benefits of having a drug testing program. Talking with an experienced professional can help corporate leaders make informed decisions.

Once a company has made the decision to go ahead with workplace drug testing, the next step is to have a formal written policy. Legal council is an absolute necessity. The policy should include supervisor training, employee education, an employee assistance program and the method of testing and verification of the drug test results. Urine drug testing is the most common method. It is simple and easy to collect and is non invasive, unlike drawing blood. It is important to know that a positive drug test does not correlate with impairment. This is because it is the metabolite of the drug that is measured in the urine. The drug test only tells you if the person has used the drug within a certain time frame. Factors such as obesity, metabolic rate and frequency of use will potentially extend the time frame over which someone will test positive. Hair testing has the advantage of having a positive test up to 90 days after use. Other new technologies to test for drugs include sweat testing and saliva testing.

Although less invasive than urine or hair testing, sweat testing may not be a good choice until it achieves the same legal standing as urine testing. Saliva testing is showing promise as an alternative testing method because it is easy, fast, less invasive and there is lessening legal debate over it's accuracy. The major disadvantage of saliva testing is that it only can detect use for 8 hours.

Once a company has decided on its testing methods, they must decide when to test. Most companies reserve the right to test employees when they appear to be impaired. This is called for cause testing. A great number of companies also use a pre-employment test prior to employees beginning work, usually as part of a post-offer physical. Most employers are aware that physical exams may not be conducted until after an offer of employment is made, as defined within the Americans with Disabilities Act. Most employers are not aware that they may require drug tests prior to offering a job and that drug testing is considered a separate part of the employment process.

Federally regulated job classifications are subject to random drug testing. Some companies who have no tolerance policies also choose to have this type of protocol. Another important time to test for drug use is after accidents. Having post-accident drug testing may help a company avoid liability on some work-related injuries. Workers compensation insurers commonly offer discounts for companies who test for drugs after accidents or injuries.

Designing an effective workplace drug testing program depends on many factors. These include the philosophy of the leadership, characteristics of the workforce and the relationship with labor unions. Most concerns about union reaction are unfounded. Everybody wants to work in a safe environment and go home to their family at the end of the day. With that goal in mind, a drug testing program usually can be implemented with union support as long as it is fair and safety directed.

The fairness and impartiality of the drug testing program can be preserved in several ways. The first is by always using a trained Medical Review Officer (MRO). MROs are medical doctors who have been specifically trained to interpret test results. Through taking a detailed medical and dietary history, conducting an interview and if necessary, a physical exam, the MRO can determine the validity of the test results. No human resources or laboratory personnel have the training to do this. Not using an MRO may open up any testing program to legal challenge. The second way the integrity of the drug testing program can be preserved is by putting the entire process, including consequences of a failed test, in writing. Once approved by management and labor representation if applicable, there should be no exceptions to this policy. The perception of fairness is critical to the buy-in of the workforce.

The last thing to remember is that there is no one right answer. Deciding on an issue like workplace drug testing can be complicated. If the wrong decisions are made, a lot of money can be spent without achieving the desired results. Do not hesitate to consult with an experienced professional. If you have any questions, you may call 248.652.5597 and I will be happy to help you find a local expert.

Robert Kantor, MD, MPH and Kevin Florek, DO, MPH

Crittenton Hospital Medical Center
COPYRIGHT 2003 Detroit Regional Chamber
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Author:Florek, Kevin
Article Type:Advertisement
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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