Preventing Accidents: Alcohol Testing

While most of the equipment we sell is made for responding to a medical incident, our goal as health and safety practitioners is ultimately to prevent accidents from happening in the first place. Officially, 8% of patients admitted to Emergency Rooms because of workplace accidents test positive for alcohol consumption. While there are not reliable figures for remote environments, anecdotal evidence suggests that that number is considerably higher. Even blood alcohol levels of less than 0.03% have been shown to impair coordination, judgement, and reaction times. With those numbers in mind, it is no surprise that many organizations are implementing alcohol screening and testing programs in the workplace. Just as not every site requires the same level of medical equipment, not every site will require the same breath alcohol testing program.

The first step: Do I require DOT compliance?

Unlike police departments that often have different protocols for alcohol testing, workplace alcohol testing in the United States is governed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). If you are conducting workplace testing in the U.S., you are subject to DOT regulations. That’s actually good news because it means that your entire testing protocol has already been defined for you. There are essentially three components to the DOT program:

 

  1. DOT protocols as outlined in 49 CFR Part 40 at http://www.dot.gov/ost/dapc/ must be followed at all times. These outline how tests are taken, results are interpreted, and accuracy is ensured.
  2. The person administering the test must be certified as a DOT Breath Alcohol Technician. This is a certification offered by many providers in the US and abroad, including Remote Medical International. It is typically a day long course that teaches the student to follow DOT protocols and is often combined with a course certifying the student to use a particular Breath Alcohol Testing device.
  3. The device being used must be certified by the DOT as evidential (we’ll discuss this later).

If you are like many of our clients who operate overseas and do not require DOT compliance, you have a decision to make as to whether you need DOT protocols or not.

The DOT protocols are widely considered to be the world standard for Breath Alcohol Testing and most counties simply adopt the protocols as their own. Because there is no point in reinventing the wheel and developing another protocol, most clients end up using the DOT protocols anyway. DOT protocols are widely accepting in court and anyone who is prepared to fire an employee for alcohol consumption should be prepared to defend the test in a court of law.

Of course, the downside is that DOT testing is much more expensive than non-DOT testing. It requires certification of each person operating a testing device (typically $600-$1000 per student) and an evidential Breath Alcohol Testing (BAT) device (typically $1000-$2000 more than an entry level model). In cases where you are not concerned with employee lawsuits or DOT compliance, a simple Breath Alcohol Testing device may be the answer.

Second: Choosing a device.

After much research, RMI decided to offer the Lifeloc Technologies brand of Breath Alcohol Testing devices. They offer a wide range of professional quality units that meet the needs of customers at every level.

The first thing to understand is the difference between novelty devices (just google “breathalyzer”) and professional grade devices. Novelty devices use a semiconductor to determine Breath Alcohol Content. These are typically not calibratable and can be off as much as 0.1%. That means someone could be a 0.01% and blow a 0.11%, a huge difference. Professional devices use a fuel cell to measure alcohol content and are typically accurate to 0.005%. A novelty device should never be used for anything other than that, novelty.

All professional BAT devices can be divided into two categories: evidential and non-evidential. To be evidential, the device must be calibratable, record test results electronically, be able to print test results, and must be certified as evidential by the DOT. For a list of all conforming evidential devices, go to the DOT website. Any device that does not fall into the evidential category falls into the non-evidential category.

RMI sells the complete line of Lifeloc Technology devices.

FC10 – Non evidential, basic device.

FC10 plus – Non evidential, adds Passive Testing so that you can test bottles, cups, or people for the presence of alcohol. This only gives a positive or negative result but it does not require a mouthpiece. This can be a significant cost savings over time. Typically, if someone tests positive in Passive mode, you then add a mouthpiece and test them again to get an actual BAC reading.

FC20 – Non-evidential, adds computer connectivity so that results can be downloaded to a PC. Also allows remote diagnostics from the Lifeloc Support Team. Includes the ability to print if you require records of tests but not full evidential testing.

EV30– Evidential, the entry level evidential device.

Phoenix 6.0 – Evidential, the most advanced BAC device on the market. Includes EasyMode which prompts the user through the entire DOT testing process. This is a great device for anyone requiring evidential testing. It can also be configured with the PermAffix printer, which prints wirelessly on tamper evident, archival grade labels.

Remember, if you are implementing a DOT program, you must use an evidential device. If you are not implementing a DOT program, you may still want to use an evidential device but most people go with either the FC10 plus or an FC20 Kit that includes a printer.

Most of these models are available individually or as kits. Kits can include calibration equipment and printers. We highly recommend you contact us prior to purchasing so that we can recommend the device and kit that will best fit your needs.

Third: Get Trained
As we stress in every one of our courses, proper training is a critical aspect of any health and safety program. If you are implementing DOT protocols, you will need to have someone trained as a Breath Alcohol Technician and have them certified on the device they are using. If you are implementing a simpler program based mainly on alcohol screening (using the FC10, FC10 plus, or FC20), we can provide an e-learning CD which will certify that the user has completed a training course for the device. Either way, make sure that the people administering the test are familiar with the device being used.

Fourth: Ensuring Ongoing Accuracy
All of the devices that we sell come factory calibrated. If you are implementing a DOT program, you will need to get a calibration kit. We offer all of the evidential models (EV30 and Phoenix 6.0) in kits that include calibration. It is recommended that you calibrate your device at least once a year. The Lifeloc devices are all very easy to calibrate and can be done onsite with a calibration kit. You can also send your device to the factory to be calibrated.

Lastly: Implementing a Program
Properly implemented alcohol testing programs can reduce workplace accidents and increase employee accountability. There are three keys to success:

 

  1. Select the proper device for your application.
  2. Use the correct protocols for your application.
  3. Get your staff trained to implement the program.

 

An effective alcohol testing program can be as simple as using a entry level device to investigate accidents or as comprehensive as a fully DOT compliant program. For more information about implementing a Breath Alcohol Testing Program contact us.

Common Misconceptions

BAC devices are trickable – The Lifeloc devices are virtually impossible to fool. Pennies, gum, or anything else in the mouth will not effect the reading. Additionally, the device waits for the end of each person’s exhalation to measure the alcohol content and will not take a readying if less than 1.3L is exhaled.

Diabetes – This one is actually true. Decreased levels of insulin can cause the formation of ketone bodies which any Breath Alcohol Testing device will read as alcohol.

Leave a Reply