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How Is Alcohol Testing Performed for a Job?

by Aanya Rose

There are several methods for screening for alcohol among employees at work, and employers may decide to screen an employee for various reasons. Some employers test for alcohol because of suspicions that an employee is intoxicated while working. Pre-employment alcohol tests may also be ordered prior to an employment offer. Other employers may test for alcohol if an employee is returning to work after a DUI arrest. Some companies require tests if an employee is involved in a workplace accident. How alcohol testing is performed will depend on laws, the type of tests used, and policies and procedures in the workplace.

Breath Alcohol Test

The breath alcohol test can be given in different ways, most commonly via a Breathalyzer device. Breathalyzer is the brand-name for the original machine, though other companies make similar devices. This test does not measure a person’s blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, directly, but rather provides an estimate of an employee’s estimated BAC concentration. Breath alcohol testing can sometimes result in false readings because of the presence of tobacco smoke, electrical interference or moisture. A tester’s breathing rate may also affect the result. An employer may be trained to use a Breathalyzer and the test may be performed on site.

Urine Alcohol Tests

Urine alcohol tests can also be performed on-the-job, often by an HR representative. Typically, the employee and the HR manager will go to a private restroom that is used for testing. The HR manager also may escort the employee to an off-site place designated for testing. In some situations, the HR manager may stay in the restroom while the employee provides a sample to ensure there is no tampering. The HR manager can then test the sample for alcohol. Many different testing kits are available that provide instant results for employers. As an alternative, an employer can have employees visit a nearby lab for urine testing. These results can also be provided immediately. Many employers contract with labs to provide testing for alcohol. Urine tests typically provide information about alcohol that has been ingested within the last day or two.

Saliva Alcohol Test

Saliva can also be used to test for alcohol. Ethanol, a byproduct of beer, wine and spiritsn, can be detected in the saliva. Saliva tests are more expensive than urine tests, but not as expensive as hair and blood testing. Saliva tests are easy to administer but must be processed by a lab for results to be accurate. Saliva tests can generally detect alcohol use within 24 to 48 hours. A HR manager may be designated to perform saliva tests on-the-job. Some saliva tests are available as test strips. An HR manager may ask an employee to insert a test strip in her mouth, after which a HR manager will extract the sample, seal it, and send it off to a lab for testing.

Other Tests

Other tests are available, including hair follicle tests and blood tests. These tests are the most accurate and most expensive. Typically, employers will have to send employees to a lab for testing. Results may take several days to process. The results returned from blood and hair samples will reveal the long-term alcohol use of an employee, including information on alcohol use over a 90-day period.

About the Author

Aanya Rose has been writing since 1998. Her work has appeared in "ADDitude," "Curl," "Diabetes Alternatives," "Fitness," the "Healing Path" and more. She has served as a channel manager for various websites and worked in consultation and training. Rose holds a B.S. and Ph.D.

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