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at such a facility. ThThere have been regular reports of employees andjobapplicantswhohavesimplyrefusedtovisitoffffsite collection facilities for fear of exposure. Employers have stated that they don’t want their donors using shared equipment, such as breathalyzers, for drug and/or alcohol testing due to concerns of spreading the virus through surface contact.
It’s not just safety concerns that are facing down the drug testing industry. In a recent survey, 20 percent of employers indicated that they have had trouble arranging collection services through offsite collection sites since the start of the pandemic. In the same survey, 24 percent of employers indicated that they had concerns about breath alcohol testing because of the pandemic.4
Experts are citing stories from the field in which employers are having issues referring employees/applicants to occupational health facilities for testing due to collection sites now being used for COVID-19 testing.5 Additionally, some collection sites have shut, at least temporarily, while others have reduced their hours of operation. Add together these concerns, difficulties and counsel from industry experts, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to perform traditional drug testing on employees and applicants.
Drug Testing
in the COVID-19 Era
The pandemic has urged many employers to rethink traditional testing methods in favor of those that meet with safe practice guidelines. The inherent ease of a typical oral fluid collection makes it possible for a collection to take place virtually anywhere, anytime. Because there is no need to use a secured restroom or toilet stall and no shared equipment, an oral fluid collection can take place in an office, outdoors at a remote construction site or virtually anywhere else. Conversely, urine collections require the privacy of a bathroom stall, which creates the risk of exposure to COVID-19 via unsanitized toilets, toilet handles, sinks, faucet handles, stall doors, doorknobs and any other surface typically touched by people who use a restroom.
Additionally, a typical oral fluid collection is employee- driven, meaning donors physically conduct the collection themselves without the collector ever touching the collection materials and containers. This significantly reduces the possibility of any exposure to COVID-19 via a donor’s saliva because the collector never comes in contact with the donor’s sample. While professional technicians at offsite facilities may be used to collect oral fluid samples, it is optional and depends on the circumstances, such as concerns about the cost of using such services or possible exposure to COVID-19.
Return-to-Work Drug Testing
The old saying goes: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Maybe in drug testing terminology, a more appropriate way to say this would be: “Drug testing done right helps employers avoid a whole lot of problems down the road.”
For employers that are federally regulated, it is important to remember that it is essential to meet required random rates, regardless of the current pandemic. Although work has slowed in many industries, employers should continue testing throughout the year rather than backloading all tests in the fourth quarter.
Across the world, countries are experiencing second waves of COVID-19, meaning renewed closures and stricter protocols.
As employers face the inevitable second wave, it is essential for them to continue drug testing employees while ensuring safe practices so as to reduce exposure risks. Continued drug testing is essential for ensuring safety in the workplace, and employers can choose testing methods that minimize risk.
What You Should Be Doing Now
No one can predict when the pandemic will be completely under control, but the day will surely come. In the meantime, there are important things employers can do to be prepared for the new “normal,” whatever it may look like. For instance:
■ Review your states guidelines for reopening. Every state has issued its own unique set of instructions to help employers prepare for a post-pandemic workplace. Study all applicable guidelines and ensure your workplace COVID-19 testing policy and employee health protocols align with those state requirements.
■ Review and update your drug testing policy, including applicable state laws, marijuana laws and workers’ and unemployment compensation laws.
■ Get caught up with all Department of Transportation (DOT) required supervisor training or refresher training utilizing online, easy-to-use courses. Also, provide DOT-required education for all covered employees.
■ Provide non-DOT supervisor training and employee education as well.
■ Enhance and expand your drug testing program by adding alternative testing methods to your existing urine drug testing program that allow self-collection and social distancing. This includes lab-based oral fluid testing and saliva alcohol screening.
■ Consider alternative collection methods such as on-site and telehealth video-observed sample collections.
Heading into this second wave of COVID-19, employers should shore up practices to ensure that they already have safe processes in place. Look into telehealth collections, using apps such as PROOF or Zoom, and talk to your collection sites and providers about potential alternative specimens that reduce the risk of exposure.
Brian P. Feeley is the Director of Sales for OraSure Technologies’ Substance Abuse Testing division. He has over 35 years of experience in industry working in technical, business development and sales & marketing capacities. He is named as an inventor on four patents in the diagnostics field and has numerous publications. Brian and his team educate and train national laboratory partners, TPA’s and end users on the benefits of oral fluid testing to enhance their substance abuse screening programs.
1. future-of-drug-testing/
2. business-response.html
3. guidance_042820.pdf?sfvrsn=ff854c2_2
4. future-of-drug-testing/
5. law/pages/coronavirus-complicates-drug-testing.aspx
16 Occupational Health & Safety | MARCH 2021

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