Saliva vs. Urine Drug Testing



When implementing a workplace drug testing procedure, deciding between urine or oral fluid (saliva) testing can be a complex and daunting task. With the recent media coverage over drug testing within the Fair Work Australia Commission, many workplaces are reviewing their policies to ensure they are using the most appropriate and relevant to their workplace.

This below information has been created to assist you in weighing up the differences between urine and oral fluids testing.

WHAT IS THE MAIN DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ORAL FLUIDS VS. URINE TESTING?

Oral fluid testing allows employers to test in a shorter detection timeframe to provide a better indication of potential impairment. However, it must be noted, that a non-negative result from oral fluid testing does not always equal impairment within the workplace.

On the other hand, urine testing can return non-negative results on those who are no longer impaired, but may have taken a selected drug prior to testing. At this time urine testing is the preferred method of testing as the testing devices are more accurate with results.

HOW EASILY CAN A SAMPLE BE ADULTERATED OR SUBSTITUTED?

In the hands of inexperienced testers, either kit can be adulterated producing a invalid sample, however Assist Group’s onsite testers have completed all relevant training in regards to sample collection reducing the ability for employees to tamper with samples.

If our collectors believe a sample has been tampered with or substituted, a secondary sample will be collected and tested to ensure accuracy of results.

It is important to note here that as a part of the Australian Standards for drug testing (ASNZ 4308:2008 and ASNZ 4760:2006) all samples that test non-negative during onsite testing are to be sent to our NATA accredited laboratory partner. During this process, we note saliva samples are more likely to degrade during the transfer process. This can be to the point where confirmation testing is unable to be performed on the sample

WHICH TESTING KIT IS ABLE TO DETERMINE IMPAIRMENT?

Neither test kit is able to determine impairment. In the case of oral fluid testing, although it is a shorter detection time it is possible to be impaired but return a negative test result. On the other hand, urine test kits test on a longer detection time frame as it screens for metabolites within the urine. This can produce a non-negative result without the employee being impaired.

DO BOTH TESTING KITS TEST FOR THE SAME DRUG CLASSES?

Urine instant kits test for the general 6 drug classes – Opiates/ Morphine, Cocaine, Amphetamine, Methamphetamine, Benzodiazepines and Cannabis (THC). Test kits are being developed to also screen for synthetic cannabis, however these cannot always been taken as reliable due to the ever changing chemical basis of these drugs.

Oral fluids instant swab kits generally test for 5 drug classes – Opiates/Morphine, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Amphetamine and Cannabis, though newer test kits are beginning to cover the full 6 classes.

IS THERE ANYTHING I NEED TO DO AS AN EMPLOYER TO ENSURE THE APPROPRIATE MEASURES ARE IN PLACE ONSITE FOR TESTING?

If you choose to implement urine testing onsite our collectors will require access to toilet facilities and a private testing area (a vacant office for example). During the process of testing, the toilets will be unavailable for staff to use, as they need to be temporarily amended to meet the Australian Standards.

Testing of oral fluids only requires access to a private testing area.

ARE THERE ANY RESOURCES I CAN USE TO DETERMINE THE BEST METHOD OF ONSITE TESTING?

If you are interested in reading through the most recent judgements in onsite drug testing the following cases are of interest:

  • 2007 Maritime Union of New Zealand vs. TLNZ Ltd and TLNZ

    Decision: The implementation of testing through urine testing was reasonable

  • 2008 Shell Refining Pty Ltd vs. CFMEU

    Decision: Whilst the decision made by the court was that urine testing was unreasonable, their judgement was based upon laboratory confirmation testing rather than onsite test kits

  • 2011 CFMEU vs. HWE Mining Pty Ltd

    Decision: Testing kits available for onsite oral fluids testing were less reliable that onsite urine testing.

  • 2012 Endevour Energy vs. CEPU

    Decision: The ruling passed down was that oral fluid testing was appropriate

IN THE END, WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN TO YOUR WORKPLACE?

Ultimately when it comes to choosing a method of onsite testing for your workplace, the preferences of an employer and its relevant stakeholders must be considered. Urine testing remains the preferred method of onsite testing, as it is most compliant to the current Australian Standards with more accurate testing kits, and lower risk of false positive results. However, if your workplace is open to industrial relations pressure or requires convenient testing then saliva testing may be more suitable.

Prior to implementing your onsite testing policy, Assist Group strongly recommends you understand the wording used within the policy, its procedure and the implications from this policy. Having educations sessions with your staff prior to commencing testing or even performing research on your employees expectations of a program can help with its adoption into company culture.

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