Coronavirus Risk

Coronavirus in the workplace – how safe is onsite Alcohol and Drug testing now?

COVID-19 has had enormous impact on many businesses right across Australia, and in this series we will be looking at some of the many changes and new risks that have dramatically altered the landscape for workplace drug testing.

Evidence suggests we don’t need to go overboard with our PPE for workplace drug testing!

Along with many of the other changes required by Australian workplaces due to the global pandemic, one area particularly affected has been the significant reduction in workplace drug testing as part of many companies overall fitness for work programs.

This is unfortunate, as not only have the risks associated with workplace drug and alcohol misuse arguably increased over this period, but in many cases the OH&S considerations for COVID-19 have rightly taken a lot of management and staff focus away from other, traditional areas of risk management.

So, with the reopening of the economy now underway, the points below may provide some guidance and considerations for discussion as we return to the ‘new normal’.

It is important to note that this guide is a general discussion only and specific issues related to your workplace should always be discussed with relevant medical experts.

Risk of Drug testing staff infecting your workforce

Risk: very low

As a rule, WDTA members have in place appropriate screening procedures to ensure their collection staff are at the lowest risk of transmission possible. This typically includes questions on any symptoms, travel etc and temperature screening before beginning their shift.

No part of the actual collection process (for Urine or Oral drug screening) poses any particular risk provided all the normal precautions such as social distancing, wiping down surfaces etc are followed, and collection staff are wearing appropriate PPE such as gloves, eye protection (if required) or other items as identified by the WDTA members own risk management principles.

Risk of urine drug testing spreading Coronavirus

Risk: very low

A number of studies have shown that even in patients being treated for active COVID-19, there is no virus detected in their urine¹ This means that provided the normal rules of social distancing, cleaning surfaces, washing hands etc are followed, the risk of transmission of the coronavirus for urine testing is no greater than many other routine practices in the workplace.

Risk of the testing process itself spreading Coronavirus

Risk: low

Some aspects of the testing process itself may need to change to ensure the risk of virus spreading remains low. For example, while the testing area should always be in a private space to maintain confidentiality and adequate chain of custody, other features such as a waiting area for donors, or other congregations of employees will need to maintain the 1.5m social distancing, and numbers in any one room much more limited than may have been typical in the past.

Your WDTA member will have useful advice specific to your workplace to manage any changes to pre-Coronavirus protocols.

Risk of breath testing for Alcohol spreading Coronavirus

Risk: low if managed correctly

Breath testing for alcohol could be perceived as a greater risk, but this can be largely eliminated if correct procedure is followed, most of which would already be in place. Steps such as

  • use of individual mouthpieces for every new donor (untouched by the collector), and immediately disposed of afterwards in the appropriate waste stream
  • having the mouthpiece aimed away from the collector when blowing through the device
  • if passive detection is used (ie speaking into the device rather than blowing), then ensuring the device is cleaned and wiped down between each test

We can see that breath detection presents a low risk given that many states have restarted their random roadside testing for alcohol and drugs. This is at least in part because of the increased risks they are seeing from the suspension of the normal testing, which may be of relevance to many workplaces.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner said “concerningly” during the COVID-19 lockdowns “we have seen our medium and high range (drink driving) charges go up” A significant proportion of those drivers are busted between 6am and midday, because they haven’t allowed enough time for alcohol to clear their system.²

Risk of oral fluid (saliva) testing spreading Coronavirus

Risk: moderate, or low if managed correctly

The process of collecting and testing oral fluid for drugs of abuse inevitably involves the use of saliva (known to carry infectious virus particles). However, given that WDTA collectors are specifically trained in collection procedures as well as appropriate infection control principles, the overall risk should remain low provided all other routine measures are also taken (eg social distancing). You may also notice a few minor changes in procedure (replacing or wiping down surfaces much more frequently for example).

However ‘in house’ testing (ie staff members testing other employees of the same company), or testing by individuals without appropriate training or qualifications may not only place the integrity of the test result itself in jeopardy, it may also be a possible source of Coronavirus within your workplace.

If performing in house testing you may wish to consider getting expert medical advice on the potential increased Coronavirus risk for your workplace, or speak to your WDTA member about appropriate procedures or ways they can help reduce any identified risks.

1. Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in Different Types of Clinical Specimens

2. (accessed 5/6/20)

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