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Drug Testing - Urine or Oral Fluid?

Drug testing on the job 
Employers have a general 'duty of care' obligation for safety and health under the various Occupational Health and Safety legislation(s) and to provide a safe workplace and safe systems of work so workers are not exposed to hazards. Workplace hazards also include the risk of injury or harm from people using alcohol and/or drugs.
The common and accepted way of eliminating the risk of drug impairment in the workplace is to implement workplace drug testing.  
 
What are the main differences between the two testing methodologies commonly used in Employer drug testing – Urine and Oral Fluid Testing?
 
Urine testing can highlight an individual’s drug use; however, it cannot determine whether or not that person is ‘under the influence’. In urine testing illicit drugs are able to be detected between 2-4 days after use and in the case of chronic users of Benzodiazepines or cannabis, up to 30 days.
 
A saliva test or oral fluid test (OFT) on the other hand detects the ‘active’ ingredient in the drug. Although there is no way of determining through an OFT if a person is ‘impaired’, by identifying the ‘active’ ingredient, there is a greater probability that that person has recently taken drugs (within the last couple of days). In OFT drugs are typically detected for 12 to 48 hours after use.
 
Urine Testing
According to investigations and testing comparisons urine testing is considered to be more invasive and requires facilities to undertake a drug test as per the AS/NZS standards. When testing for drugs in urine, urine is:

  • more likely to detect codeine and amphetamine
  • more likely to detect overall medication and substance use
  • more likely to detect illicit drug use
      

Oral Fluid Testing
OFT offers advantages of being less invasive and does not need special collection facilities. Testing for drugs using OFT, OFT has:

  • a shorter window of detection, typically hours as compared to urine in which use may be detected after several days.
  • OFT is therefore seen to align more closely with the very recent use of drugs, however, it may also fail to detect drug use during a withdrawal (crashing) when behavioural (safety) risks are significant.

In Review;
Urine drug testing is more likely to detect overall substance use and illicit drug use than OFT.  Urine testing may also be more likely to detect workers with possible impairment at work and substance use disorders than OFT.
 
It must be remembered the identification of drug taking in the workplace will ultimately:

-     Reduce the number, type and cost of accidents, and associated medical costs,
-     Reduce employee turnover and the costs of recruiting and training new staff,
-     Reduce absenteeism,
-     Reduce the incidence of non- or poor-performance due to drug use,
-     Reduce errors and their associated costs,
-     Increase the desirability of forestry as a place to work, and
-     Improve the health of employees and the safety of fellow workmates and families.