Last updated: July 13, 2020
Although alcohol abuse is a huge problem for employers, few test for alcohol in their drug free workplace programs. Studies show that more than 14 million working days are apparently lost to hangovers, absenteeism or alcohol related illnesses each year. Out of millions who hold full time employment in the United States, close to fifteen million are heavy drinkers of alcohol, exacting a high cost on work organizations, as employees who drink a lot are often absent from work, suffer from a lot of health problems, and are at a greater risk of harming themselves and others.
Of course DOT regulated companies are required to test for alcohol in their random testing program, post -accident testing, reasonable suspicion testing, return to duty testing and follow-up testing. The testing methodology must be as follows:
- Initial Screening Test – can be performed with DOT approved Alcohol screening devices (ASD) for saliva or breath but the test if positive must be confirmed with an evidential breath testing device (EBT) by a trained breath alcohol technician. The initial screening test can be performed with the EBT.
- Confirmation Test for Alcohol – must be conducted fifteen minutes after a positive screening test and is required to be performed with an evidential breath testing device (EBT) by a trained breath alcohol technician.
For non-regulated workplace alcohol testing, States laws must be reviewed. In Florida, the Florida Drug Free Workplace program requires a blood test for alcohol. In Minnesota, point of collection instant testing is prohibited so therefore any test for alcohol must go to the laboratory. In most States, it is appropriate to mirror the DOT program for alcohol testing.
Supervisors who are appropriately trained for reasonable suspicion drug and alcohol testing will be more inclined to request testing for alcohol in addition to drug testing. This is a safety issue. An employee drinking alcohol or impaired on the job creates a safety issue and exposure to liability for the employers. Testing for drugs and alcohol under reasonable suspicion situations can save lives.
For post-accident testing, alcohol should always be part of the test along with a drug panel. A breath alcohol test or blood alcohol test can show current impairment. The reason for the drug and alcohol test is because if the employee tests positive for alcohol or certain banned drugs, the employer will have a stronger case to deny the claim for workers’ compensation benefits. If the employer can prove the employee was intoxicated or impaired at the time of the accident, then the employer has cause to deny the claim for workers’ compensation benefits. It is critical that employers conduct post-accident drug and alcohol testing.
A breathalyzer or evidential breath testing device is a device for estimating blood alcohol content (BAC) from a breath sample. Breath analyzers don’t actually test blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which requires the analysis of a blood sample. Instead, they estimate BAC indirectly. Breathalyzers measure the alcohol that passes through alveoli air sacs as blood flows through vessels in the lungs, and is then expelled on a subject’s breath. Confirmed results from an evidential breath alcohol testing device, particularly those derived from fuel cell sensor breath tests, are considered sufficiently accurate to hold up in a challenge.
A blood alcohol test measures the amount of alcohol (ethanol) in the body. Blood alcohol content is usually expressed as a percentage of alcohol (generally in the sense of ethanol) in the blood in units of mass of alcohol per volume of blood or mass of alcohol per mass of blood, depending on the country. For instance, in North America a BAC of 0.1 (0.1% or one tenth of one percent) means that there are 0.10 g of alcohol for every dL of blood. A BAC of 0.04% is typically a violation of an employer’s drug free workplace policy. Of course for blood alcohol testing, a phlebotomist would be necessary to draw the blood; both Quest and Labcorp facilities have trained phlebotomists. A pre-arranged account for the blood alcohol test is also necessary.