Construction Industry Moves to More Oral Swab Testing Amidst Increase in Urine Test Cheating

June 28, 2024|

By KERRY SMITH BUCK

Making sure a construction company’s workforce is safe as its members and field partners build projects is critical.

That said, a recent Quest Diagnostics analysis of 9.8 million workforce drug tests revealed that tampering with urine-based drug tests – not only in the construction industry but across all U.S. job sectors – increased more than 600 percent during 2023 as compared to 2022.

The degree to which individuals are substituting urine specimens – especially in light of the marked increase in marijuana positivity rates nationwide – is leading construction firms and others to reconsider using urine tests and make the move to oral swab tests.

An industry source says some companies decided as long as five years ago to shift from using urine samples to using oral swab tests to detect drug use among its workforce. The contractor says there are three primary reasons for the change:

1 – There’s a huge cost savings in using oral swabs rather than urine tests. The cost of an oral swab test is $18 and the lab fee is $7, compared with the cost of $75 per urine sample test and a $150 lab fee.

2 – Time savings is another factor. With the exception of post-accident drug testing, contractors are able to conduct their own (oral swab) sample collections in-house. The swab test takes only five minutes, yet that time provides the employer with an opportunity to observe the worker being tested to sense whether he or she is impaired. Contractors say these moments contrast with the two to three hours that the employee would be offsite getting tested.

3 – The obvious advantage of swab tests is that they’re conducted out in the open, with no chance of sample substitution occurring like with urine sample testing.

The disadvantage of electing to use the oral swab means of drug testing, according to Alberici Constructors Safety Director Bo Cooper, is that the oral swab only detects drug usage within a 12-hour period, whereas urine-based testing can detect marijuana (and other drug) usage back as far as 30 days. Alberici uses urine testing regularly, he says. If a person has a THC positive on a urine test, then the firm also uses the oral fluid swab. If the oral fluid test is negative, all is well. But if the oral swab is positive, it shows that the individual likely smoked or ingested a substance within the past 12 hours.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation are still using solely urine testing,” Cooper said. “As a company, we’ve labeled all construction jobs as high hazard and safety sensitive. If their urine test reveals THC usage that indicates daily marijuana usage, we suspend them for eight days and try to help them. We handle the positives on a case by case basis.”

Sometimes the project owner may require a drug testing standard that differs from the contractor’s standard.

Regardless of the means of testing, when an individual’s results come back, a medical resource officer contacts the employee to request a physician’s documentation for any prescription drug that is reflected in the test.

Cooper says THC edibles can take up to two hours to take effect, whereas vaping or smoking marijuana can take effect within minutes. Edibles typically remain in the individual’s system several hours longer than marijuana that is inhaled.

Post-accident marijuana positivity rates among the entire U.S. workforce population have steadily climbed over the past nine years, according to the Quest Diagnostics study. Over that time frame, post-accident marijuana positivity increased 114.3 percent nationwide.

“We’re all monitoring this (medical marijuana usage standard) from state to state because it changes every month,” said Cooper.

 

 

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