Alcohol is often treated like a poor cousin to illicit drugs like methamphetamines and cocaine. Attitudes tend to be more forgiving or tolerant towards alcohol abuse than for illegal drug use. That’s probably because alcohol is legal to consume except in certain circumstances, such as while driving a vehicle, or while on the job.
What many people don’t realise is that alcohol is a drug, and it is the most widely used drug in Australia.1 People unfortunately do drive vehicles or report to work while alcohol impaired, and in many cases the two are not mutually exclusive. Employees arrive for work impaired or use alcohol on the job, and then drive business vehicles and heavy equipment while working. These people pose a threat to the safety of other drivers on the roads and highways and to co-workers.
The Australian laws concerning alcohol consumption and driving are strict. A blood alcohol level (BAC) that his .5 g/100ml or higher is considered to be illegal. Years ago the police were given permission to perform “random breath testing” (RBT) of drivers using portable breathalysers.2 That means an employee driving to and from work or operating a company vehicle on public roads is subject to RBT which can lead to severe penalties including expensive fines and/or imprisonment.
Employees under the influence of alcohol pose additional threats to occupational health and the safety of co-workers. The annual cost to businesses is estimated to be $1.9 billion due to lost productivity, work related injuries and deaths.3 The greatest danger lies in work and environments that are safety critical, and it is that principle which guides employer drug and alcohol testing programs. In other words, an employer has a duty of care to keep employees safe, therefore testing is necessary to insure workers adhere to the rules. Employers now use breathalysers in blanket and random testing routines.
Employees can face many consequences when it is determined they have violated employer policies and procedures concerning drug and alcohol use. Consequences can include loss of job or lost pay while attending a treatment program. Status with the employer in terms of promotions or willingness to give an employee a particular job may be compromised. The costs of alcohol abuse are absorbed by both employers and employees.
Though alcohol breathalysers have been in use for decades by the police, products like the Alert J5 Personal Breathalyser and Alcosense Precision Breathalyser are relatively new in terms of portability and being state-of-the-art. They have made it possible for employers to randomly test staff with a high degree of accuracy no matter where they are located. This has made it possible for employers to test staff BAC levels without disrupting work because the employer takes the testing to the employee. They also make alcohol testing in remote areas like mine locations and transportation centres possible.
Portable breathalysers have also made testing affordable for use by non-employers concerned about their BAC level. Portable breathalysers used to cost thousands of dollars and were not able to test with a high degree of accuracy and so were not purchased for home use. That is not true anymore.
Because of the potential enormous costs and losses involved in testing positive for alcohol in the workplace or while driving, the personal breathalyser is now being used by far more people than just the police and employers. They are also being used by employees before work when job safety is a concern. The employee can test the BAC, and if the level exceeds the legal limit, he/her would not report to work. Though the employer still experiences lost productivity, the work and workplace as a whole are kept safer.
Employees are taught employer drug and alcohol testing policies and procedures on a regular basis, but clearly they need to also be taught how to test before getting into a vehicle or going to work. CMM Technology at http://www.cmm.com.au offers a selection of personal breathalysers that can improve workplace safety through expanded employee training.
1. Australian Drug Foundation. (2011). Workplace Alcohol Policies. Retrieved February 24, 2011, from OHS Reps @ Work: http://www.ohsrep.org.au/news-views/features/workplace-alcohol-policies/index.cfm
2. NSW Government Transport Roads & Traffic Authority. (2011). Driving. Retrieved February 24, 2011, from NSW Government Transport Roads & Traffic Authority: http://www.rta.nsw.gov.au/rulesregulations/internationalinterstate/driving.html
3. Drug Info Clearinghouse. (2011). Alcohol and Work. Retrieved February 25, 2011, from Drug Info Clearinghouse: http://www.alcoholandwork.adf.org.au/