Alcohol testing in a workplace raises a number of practical, legal and ethical issues.
Testing can only be effective if it’s part of a comprehensive alcohol focus. That focus must also include a clear alcohol policy and procedures, good communication and education, and access to counselling and/or treatment support services.
Importantly, there must be a clear explanation of the rationale and procedures for testing (such as in high-risk workplaces), what level of alcohol will trigger a positive or failed test, and what the consequences of that are.
How to test
If you plan to test, there must be clear procedures about how it’s done, paying particular attention to a staff member’s right to privacy and confidentiality.
Rigorous procedures must ensure a valid result, including how samples are collected, handled and analysed.
Alcohol testing may be the right choice in safety and security-sensitive industries. However, testing has important limitations and can have significant negative consequences in the workplace (on employee morale, for example).
Testing can include random testing and testing for cause following an incident or ‘near miss’, to see if alcohol consumption is creating a safety or productivity risk.
The effectiveness of testing is limited because it assesses current alcohol levels only and can’t detect other alcohol-related risks, such as a hangover and fatigue.
Testing should never be the only means of reducing alcohol-related harm. It must be just one measure incorporated into a broader whole-of-workplace approach that takes in the workplace culture.
The standard initial workplace test for alcohol impairment is breath-testing. This can be done in the workplace using an approved testing device that meets the Australian Standard: AS 3547-1997 Breath Alcohol Testing Devices for Personal Use.
However, organisations usually prefer to use an external agency to carry out testing for them.