Last updated: January 18, 2021
If you’re an employer, chances are you already know how much of a threat drug abuse poses to safety and productivity in the workplace. The use of drugs by employees leads to loss of productivity, health care expenses, absenteeism, workplace accidents, damage and/or theft of materials and equipment, legal liabilities, higher workers’ compensation costs, and legal liabilities. While drug abuse among employees is a problem for all industries, it is a particularly large issue for the construction industry.
In comparison to other industries, the construction industry is high hazard and involves not just construction, but also repair and alteration. The hazards that construction workers face fall into the following four categories: caught-in between, falls, electrocution, and struck by object.
Unfortunately, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), construction workers rank particularly high when it comes to drug use. Due to the nature of the construction industry, it is essential that employers take all the steps necessary to deter drug use. While you may understand the importance of drug testing, you may not understand the pros and cons of the various testing methods available today.
Urine drug test
Of the different drug testing methods, the urine drug test is the method most commonly used by employers. Many employers prefer to use urine as a drug specimen due to a number of factors, including its cost and familiarity. However, the main issue that employers encounter when it comes to urinalysis is the potential for cheating, particularly when the urine is collected in an unmonitored situation.
The main appeal of the urine drug test among employers is that this method has a proven track record. Not only is using urine as a drug specimen dependable, but it is also affordable. The affordability of urinalysis drug testing is a major plus for employers who want to conduct drug tests on a regular basis for a large workforce.
Urine drug testing is able to detect drug use within a fairly longer detection window. This drug testing method has been approved for federal testing and is applicable for a number of testing reasons, such as pre-employment, reasonable suspicious, random, post-accident, and follow-up, and is currently the only method approved for DOT drug testing.
The main disadvantage of urinalysis drug testing is that urine as a drug specimen can be easily manipulated. If the urine is collected unmonitored, an employee can easily place a substance in the urine to contaminate the sample, rendering the test invalid, or even use a fluid other than their own urine. Also, if the drug test is not random, the employee can drink a significant amount of water ahead of time to try to dilute the presence of drug traces in their urine. These attempts typically do not work, however, they end up costing the employer more money, both in wages and lost productivity, as well as increasing the likelihood of an impaired employee causing a workplace accident.
Another disadvantage of urinalysis drug testing is that it cannot be used to determine the frequency of the use of drugs, or indicate the severity of the employee’s impairment.
Mouth swab drug test
A mouth swab drug test is another popular drug testing method that is rapidly gaining on the more traditional urinalysis. Under supervised observation, a sterile swab is used to collect oral fluid from an employee’s mouth. In the construction industry, oral fluid is a good drug specimen because it can be conducted in plain view and doesn’t require a private bathroom. Many construction companies conduct mouth swab testing for reasonable suspicion testing or after an on-site accident. The detection window is limited but immediate.
Just like the urine drug test, this method is also inexpensive. A major advantage of this method is that it is able to effectively detect recent drug use, and the sample is collected from the employee under direct observation, which makes cheating difficult. Also, the scientific accuracy of a mouth swab drug test is equivalent to that of a urine drug test.
The main disadvantage of a mouth swab drug test is that it cannot typically detect the use of drugs beyond 48 hours. It is also not possible to determine the frequency of use from the results of mouth swab testing. Finally, it currently is not approved for the purposes of federal drug testing.
Hair follicle drug test
A hair follicle drug test involves the use of, as you might have guessed, a hair follicle as the specimen. This drug testing method is considered ideal for return-to-duty and pre-employment testing due to the long detection window.
A hair follicle drug test is able to detect drug use within a window of 90 days. This drug testing method has a higher rate of positive results and is not easily “cheated.”
The main disadvantage of hair follicle drug testing is the higher cost in comparison to other drug testing methods. Also, hair can be a poor specimen to use to detect the sporadic use of drugs in some cases.
Due to the many safety hazards that construction workers face, employers in the construction industry should consider using different drug testing methods for different situations to take full advantage of the different advantages of each method.