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Urine testing: how it works and what it can achieve in the workplace

Drug testing in the workplace is a common practice, particularly within high-risk industries who are at a greater risk of accidents and injury occurring. It’s important to note however, the purpose of workplace drug testing according to Australian law is not about ‘catching’ employees who use drugs, but rather to reduce the negative impacts – physical, financial, emotional or otherwise – of drugs and alcohol in the workplace.

‘Drug and alcohol users lodge 5x more workers compensation claims than other employees’

In Australia both urine and oral fluid testing are acceptable means to test for drugs, however which one is right for an individual workplace depends on a range of factors, which includes industry specific legislation. Contact Work Options to determine which testing method is best for your business.

In this case we look at urine testing and what it can achieve in reducing the risk of workplace drug use and its impacts.

What is a urine drug test and how does it work?
A urine drug test analyses urine for the presence of certain illegal drugs and prescription medications, and is a common and accepted means of testing in Australian workplaces. Cut off levels for each drug class, for both initial and confirmatory testing, are set by Australian legislation (ASNZS 4308). Samples that contain drugs above the cut off concentrations are deemed positive.

Drugs detected through urine:
Urine testing screens for the following drug groups. But how long after a drug is used will it still be detected through a urine drug screen? This can vary depending on a multitude of factors including route of administration / strength of drug / individual metabolism. So there is no exact answer. However the following timeframes can be used as a guideline.

What should be considered when urine testing:

  • Whilst measures are taken to ensure privacy, typically urine testing is considered more invasive than oral fluid testing, due to the nature of collection. A bathroom or private room is required to make the collection, which can be viewed as an invasion of privacy by Fair Work Australia, and workers themselves, and may also be considered logistically difficult for some when conducted on work sites.
  • Where a drug class has been detected through initial testing at site, further testing is required by a NATA accredited laboratory.
  • Samples with concentrations of drug above the cut off level (positive drug screens) do not correlate with impairment. But certainly represents that there is a risk an individual may be impaired, and thus must be managed appropriately to ensure safety.
  • If a certified collector, in accordance with ASNZS 4308, conducts testing correctly the risk of adulteration is minimised.
  • Positive drug tests can provide insight into lifestyle choices of individual workers, which may have negative social affects.

‘62% of harmful drug and alcohol users are employed fulltime’

Regardless of using urine or oral fluid testing methods, drug and alcohol testing can play a key role in protecting businesses from issues with Fair Work Australia, IR, unfair dismissal claims and the physical and financial burden of accidents and injury. However, no matter which testing method is used, the key to successful implementation for any business is:

  • A robust Drug and Alcohol Management System which focuses on education, training and support to prevent misuse in the workplace
  • A system which is developed in consultation with the workforce and complies with industry specific and other relevant WHS legislation
  • Should be applied, reinforced and implemented consistently
  • Sets a clear guide, including policies and procedures, with regards to codes of behaviour
  • Testing should be conducted by certified collectors in strict accordance with relevant standards

To find out more about drug and alcohol testing, or to determine if your business is at risk of drugs and alcohol misuse, contact Work Options.

Related reading:
How employers can avoid 5 big mistakes when drug or alcohol testing
You suspect a worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, what’s next?
What to do when an employee fails a drug test
The biggest pitfalls in drug and alcohol testing policies

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