Choosing the right drug test

Types of tests

Three types of workplace alcohol and drug tests are commonly performed in Australian workplaces, including urine, saliva and breath. Follicle (hair) and blood testing are also available however these are rarely if ever used within Australian workplaces.

It is estimated that urine testing accounts for the majority of Australian workplace testing, with saliva testing accounting for a smaller population but rapidly increasing. It is interesting to note that breath testing for alcohol remains reasonably low and usually random, although 80+% of the Australian population (over the age of 18) consume alcohol.

Should I use a Urine or Saliva test?

There are considerable argumentsbetween employers, unions and even the judicial system as to whether an organisation should test an employee for recreational drug use (urine) or determine whether an employee is “fit for work‟ (saliva).

Urine tests are used to determine if an employee has taken an illicit substance in the past, such as on the weekend or on leave. A urine test can highlight an individual’s drug use, however it cannot determine whether or not that person is “currently under the influence‟.

A urine test can be seen as a detection method for recreational use and also as a means of deterring drug use specifically, e.g. individuals in treatment, Hospital Emergency or even family members.

A saliva test on the other hand detects the “active‟ ingredient in the drug which is currently in oral fluid/saliva, indicating current and recent use.

Although there is no way of determining through a salvia test "the degree of impaired‟ a person may have, by identifying the “active” ingredient, there is a greater probability that that person has recently taken the drug (within the last couple of days).

Recent use of an illicit drug means there is a higher likelihood the person may still be under the effect of that drug and not fit for duty.

If a Saliva Test produces a Presumptive Positive in other words above the defined cut off, the person could be considered to have a degree of impairment due to the high concentrations of the active ingredient. Similar to BAC, if the person is over a certain BAC% level they are considered to have a degree of impairment from alcohol consumption.

Some say that identifying if an employee is using a drug for recreational use is important as it can also have an impact on the workplace as various drugs can effect performance in many ways, such as:

  • Inconsistent work quality
  • Poor concentration and lack of focus
  • Lowered productivity or erratic work patterns
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Unexplained disappearances from the jobsite
  • Carelessness, mistakes or errors in judgment
  • Risk taking
  • Disregard for safety for self and others
  • Extended lunch periods and early departures
  • Workplace accidents and injury

 This is a matter for Company Policy, although some recent court rulings have been in favour of complainants, that recreational drug use outside of work time is not the business of the employer. Current impairment or “fit for duty” is!

The testing environment matters

Urine tests are far more invasive in many ways, one of the main causes for concern is the submission of a urine sample to another person whether inside the company or external, it is a substantial issue for many. The second invasion is privacy which is discussed in more detail below.

Urine testing is not easily conducted on a random basis unless there are facilities readily available, it is therefore often “advertised” so employees can attend a testing facility, office or mobile van to submit a sample, therefore causing concern for adulteration or substitution to be prepared for the test.

Saliva Testing does not suffer the same issues, it is easily conducted anywhere, anytime, a saliva sample is easy to submit and a dramatically reduced opportunity to adulterate a sample. (rinsing the donors mouth with water 10 minutes prior to the test overcomes adulteration possibilities)

Heat and light conditions can also affect testing.

All drug tests are sensitive to excess heat over 300C.

Light conditions can affect the ability to clearly read the results on some tests e.g. it is difficult to see a faint line in bright sun.

The more sensitive the test, quite often the negative lines can be very faint and difficult to detect in outdoor conditions.

Privacy Issues

Legal Issues:

Until recently, the right of employers to require an employee to undergo mandatory or self-assessed urine testing was not a substantive issue. The major issue had in fact been centred around the invasion of privacy. It has been argued by employee organisations that urine testing was an invasion of privacy as it would reveal drug use for up to a week rather than the immediate capacity of the employee to undertake duties on the day or shift.

However, in a recent High Court decision, and after receiving a substantial amount of expert opinion about advantages and disadvantages of available testing methods from a range of expert witnesses, a firm view that saliva testing was the more appropriate form of testing for impairment in the workplace.

Invasion of Privacy regarding the use of drugs outside of work is a very volatile issue, similarly the issue of confidentiality and maintenance of records is an issue.

Saliva Drug testing is the preferred test in most situations.

Saliva Testing measures a shorter timeframe from hours to 2-3 days depending on the substance used, it is preferred by most employee organisations and employees.

The issue of Privacy is usually overcome with thorough consultation with employees and agreement on a appropriate solution.

 Who conducts the testing

If testing is fully compliant with Australian Standards, the person who conducts the test must be suitably qualified in Drug Testing and their qualifications noted on the test form or within the data retained for each employee.

Many companies do not use this approach due to specific company policy regarding non negative results e.g. a non punitive response.

While both cases can apply in the Australian workplace, it is advised that the collectors do undertake the training available as it assists in producing a qualified and more accurate result due to the competencies gained by the collector in obtaining and conducting the test using the correct procedure. The experience is invaluable if there is an issue with test results or complications with the test.

 Ask for advice

 If in doubt ask!

Seek professional advice on the appropriate test kit for your workplace.

MediNat Australia are available to advise on the most suitable test kit from our range to suit your situation.

When asking any organisation for assistance, be sure of two things:

  1. The person you talk to has the experience and knowledge to appropriately advise you, not a sales person only
  2. Make sure the company you talk to has a range of test kits to choose from, if they only have one or two, then that is all they can or will advise
  3. We have a policy at MediNat Australia that if we don’t have the right test for you, then we will refer you to a company who has!

Make sure your supplier has a range to choose from to suit your requirements or will refer you to someone who has.