At the heart of what we do at TSS – The Safety Specialists is the conviction that safe workplaces must be drug-free workplaces. For this reason, we always urge the businesses we work with to establish robust drug policies and screening programs.
Naturally, one of the questions that frequently comes our way is: “What is the best drug testing method for my company?”
The answer isn’t simple. Whether you choose laboratory or onsite urine testing, saliva testing, hair or fingernail testing, each method has its pros and cons depending on a company’s needs. Cost, reliability, industry and government requirements, time and convenience – all factor into the decisions made. For example, if you are a business regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT), you are required by law to conduct laboratory urine testing. (This will likely change in the coming year as oral fluid testing is approved.) Many of our DOT-regulated clients choose to include additional testing methods in their drug policy because of other business considerations and needs.
Below is an overview of test types and the strengths and weaknesses of each:
- This is the most common, time-tested screening method.
- It is approved for federally mandated workplace testing and is considered scientifically accurate and legally defensible.
- It can screen for a wide range of drugs.
- Urine testing has a relatively broad detection window and is able to flag drug use between four and 72 hours.
- It is easy to collect and transport and is cost effective.
- Drug users have learned to cheat the test. Urine testing has been around since the 1980s as the standard workplace testing method. Over time, however, signs have emerged that some drug users have figured out ways to subvert the test. Data collected by Quest Diagnostics shows that there has been a significant decrease in positive tests since the 1980s. Numbers from the National Institute of Drug Abuse show that self-reported drug use has been on the rise. According to the research, self-reported drug use is actually almost three times higher than what is detected in the lab. That’s cause for concern.
- It can take two days to get results when tested through a laboratory.
- If employees have to go to a testing site, it can involve additional costs and wait times.
- It is difficult for some individuals, with “shy bladder” issues to provide a sample.
- Rapid or instant urine testing provides immediate results and can quickly confirm suspicions about whether someone is using drugs.
- It is cost-effective.
- Rapid testing is not considered to be as reliable or accurate as lab testing and is not as defensible in a court of law.
- This type of testing is not federally approved and won’t cover DOT requirements
Oral fluid testing has been approved by the Department of Health and Human Services and is on the cusp of being approved as a drug testing method by the DOT.
- Saliva can be collected anywhere at any time and is especially convenient for isolated workplaces.
- It is inexpensive.
- It has been proven to be scientifically accurate and holds up in court.
- Oral fluid testing detects very recent drug use, meaning that it is a good method to use when there is suspicion that someone is under the influence at work.
- The sample is collected under direct observation and therefore, is extremely difficult to subvert.
- The detection window for oral fluid testing is narrow, and it won’t detect drug use beyond 48 hours.
- Hair testing is scientifically accurate, not easily adulterated and legally defensible.
- It has the longest window of detection and will show a pattern of repeated drug use over the last 90 days.
- Hair testing is an effective method for pre-employment testing because it can show long-term drug use and filter out at-risk individuals. While drug abusers can often stop using for a few days to avoid positive results in saliva and urine tests, an addict is unlikely to be able to stop for three months.
- Collection is fairly easy and secure.
- Hair testing is not a federally approved testing method.
- Because of the rate of hair growth, drugs can’t be detected in the hair until five to seven days after use. Therefore, it cannot flag recent drug use.
- Employers should not use this method to screen employees with safety-sensitive jobs or after an on-the-job accident.
- It is the most costly testing method.
Many businesses have shifted away from relying only on urine testing. Instead, they test a combination of different specimens to help maximize their drug screening program and return on investment.