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Alcohol and drug testing in the workplace – what are the post-lockdown safety protocols?

ByHarriette Bond

Nov 27, 2021

Despite the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, vigilance remains essential when it comes to safety and hygiene in the workplace.

The vaccination programme is a clear success, yet even those who are double-vaccinated can still catch and transmit the virus.

These hygiene concerns have led some businesses and organisations to scale down their alcohol and drug screening activities for fear of breaching the ‘hands, face, space’ recommendations. Latest government guidance states that ‘Everyone should be cautious while managing the risks as cases of COVID-19 remain high.’

So how can employers safely reinstate or introduce drug and alcohol screening without compromising covid safety?

Suzannah Robin, a drug and alcohol safety expert at AlcoDigital, says it’s important not to substitute one risk for another by ignoring the dangers that misuse of drugs and alcohol can present in the workplace.

“Research has shown that levels of drug and alcohol misuse have increased during the pandemic. More people are drinking at home, and now that pubs and clubs have reopened, some are making up for lost time by over-indulging during nights out.

“No employer wants to be a killjoy, but at the same time they have a legal duty to protect the safety of staff by ensuring that these issues do not create risk in the workplace.”

Most drug and alcohol screening programmes use breathalysers to check for alcohol and saliva tests to screen for drugs. AlcoDigital recommends the following five tips to ensure that testing is carried out with covid safety in mind.

  1. Test outside, if possible

Where possible, testing should take place outdoors. If this is not practical, indoor testing should be carried out in a well-ventilated area and protective ‘sneeze guard’ screens should be used to ensure additional safety for both the person being tested (the donor) and the employee carrying out the testing (the operator).

  1. Sanitise between tests

If testing is taking place indoors, all hard surfaces in the vicinity should be cleaned between tests with alcohol-based sanitisers and disinfectant.

Whether indoors or outdoors, all test equipment should also be thoroughly sanitised, and a minimum of ten minutes between cleaning and testing is required to ensure alcohol-vapours have dissipated.

  1. Wear appropriate PPE

Masks and gloves should be worn by both operator and donor while following testing procedures and handling equipment. The mask of the donor can be lifted to carry out a breath or saliva test, but immediately replaced afterwards.

PPE should be removed and safely disposed of after each test.

  1. Ensure Covid-safe breathalyser use

The exhaust-end of any alcohol testing device should be directed away from the test operator or any other staff members in the vicinity. Exhaled breath as an aerosol travels much further than normal exhaled breath – all hard surfaces within a 4-metre radius that could be contaminated should be cleaned after each test.

‘Selfie sticks’ can be attached to some breathalysers, allowing the operator to hold out the device while maintaining a suitable distance from the donor.

  1. Take extra care when fitting breathalyser mouthpieces

Individually packed disposable mouthpieces should be attached to the breathalyser with the ‘mouth end’ of the packaging intact. Ideally, fitting should be carried out by the donor rather than the operator. Once fitted, the packaging can be disposed of hygienically.

With these safety measures in place, there’s no reason why drug and alcohol testing cannot be resumed, or introduced for the first time as part of a new post-lockdown health and safety policy.

COVID-19 has proved that testing is nothing more than a minor inconvenience, yet it can deliver major benefits in terms of the health and wellbeing of workers all over the UK.