Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Press here please: Employers can check for alcohol use with a 10-second finger scan

Alcohol concentration tests take a measure of the alcohol in a person at that moment.  It doesn't tell if there is a lingering problem with an alcohol use disorder, but employers now have a passive detection tool that can tell in 10 seconds if an employee is impaired.  This is from my news article posted today.

Employers with zero tolerance of intoxication on the job are being marketed a new fingerprint scanner to take the place of breath tests. TruTouch Technologies, Inc. unveiled the TruTouch 2500 at a trade show last fall and has now begun pitching the product to employers in conjunction with Psychmedics Corporation.

The workplace-sobriety device is an optical sensor that can accurately read alcohol levels by placing a finger on the scanner and waiting as few as 10 seconds for results. The finger-touch system replaces more invasive and time-consuming tests, such as urine, blood or breath sampling. Employers set their own levels and those who take the finger test will get a red or green light.

In 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that alcohol use disorders – alcohol abuse and the disease of alcoholism – accounted for $154 billion in lost productivity. Dr. Richard D. Gill, President & CEO of TruTouch, said the scanner helps employers reduce the alcohol-related downtime and keep the public safe. “The TruTouch measurement offers employers, individuals, and society in general the tools to intercept alcohol consumption before it does harm.”

Millions of workers face routine alcohol testing in high-risk jobs such as transportation and manufacturing, but more employers are incorporating zero-tolerance rules to improve healthcare costs to the company and/or to ensure employees with public contact are projecting a sober image.

The proposition of being scanned when an employee clocks in is stirring some controversy in the United Kingdom, where staff in local government and security, transport and leisure industries will be first to be targeted. Unions complained alcohol testing was heavy-handed while an employment lawyer said most workers had the right to refuse a test, according to U.K. News site Metro.

The publication reports Dave Prentis, general secretary Britain's biggest public sector trade union, condemns the move as ‘a sledgehammer to crack a nut’. "If workers have a problem with alcohol, their employers should not be relying on a gadget to entrap them but should be providing them with proper support."

Passive alcohol detection is not new. Skin tests date back to the 1930s and the method is backed by science and the courts. The TruTouch device is the world's first to measure alcohol concentration through the skin using optical technology. Presently in the U.S., many criminal justice offenders out on probation or bail are ordered to wear a continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM) ankle bracelet that monitors alcohol through the skin, but not optically. The optical scanner method is for instant readouts, and is the type of passive system the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Dec. 19 called for in all motor vehicles to eliminate intoxicated driving deaths. (See related article)

Alcohol is processed by the body at a rate of approximately one drink (10 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, one 1.5 ounce shot of spirits) per hour. At that rate, a person intoxicated at .20 BAC (two and a half times the legal limit for driving) at 2 a.m. Would show up for work at 9 a.m. with alcohol still in his or her system and would trip any measuring method, possibly without even feeling impaired.

As it passes through the body, one percent is removed through the skin without being metabolized. The percentage is consistent regardless of weight or gender, which is how all trans-dermal alcohol concentration (TAC) screens function.
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Employees concerned their off-premises, off-hours alcohol use might be subject to employer scrutiny through such devices might want to consider their consumption rather than the employer's tactics. The CAGE self-test is a reliable indicator:
Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
Have people Annoyed you about your drinking?
Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
Have you ever had an Eye-opener drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?

A score of just two yes answers suggests a significant risk of problem drinking that should be discussed with a doctor.