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On Site Drug Screen Testing

On Site Drug Screen Testing: - What the Screen Testers Are Not Telling You

An article by Kevin Thompson,a Registered Safety Professional, of the New Zealand Safety Council feels employers need to know what collectors and screen testing companies are not telling about the process of drug testing in New Zealand.

Recently we saw the Christchurch City Council’s ability to issue buildings permits withdrawn by International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ). In order for the council to issue permits, they are required to demonstrate through a process of moderation that they meet the following five points:

Competence and experience of staff

Integrity and traceability of equipment and materials

Technical validity of methods

Validity and sustainability of results

Compliance with ISO management system standards.

The accreditation by IANZ is the International process for assessing and recognising the technical and effective quality processes of a professional service and its staff.

So what, did I hear you saying, has that got to do with the process of drug testing in the workplace.

Procedures for testing

The procedures for specimen collection and the detection and quantification of drugs of abuse in urine standard AS/NZS 4308:2008, sets out that the collectors undertaking these procedures must be certified by NZQA and hold the appropriate unit standard for the procedure being undertaken. Ie. Unit standard 25458:Collecting samples and Unit standard 25511:  Screening samples.

This updated 2008 version of the standard, for the first time introduced the option of on-site screening.

NZQA certification on its own does not allow those certified to do on-site drugs screening. It is simply reference to the attendee having successfully completed a course of instruction on how to on-site screen. Only after both certification and IANZ accreditation are obtained will onsite drug screening be compliant with the standard.

Training Providers

Providers of this type of training now also need to take a further step which is to inform the trainee that before they can go out into the market place and advertise this service, that they are required to become accreditted to do on site screen testing. Accreditation involves an Assessment by a recognized body (IANZ) of the technical competence of a collecting agency where both collection procedures and on-site screenings are performed.

Accreditation of on-site screen testing

The standard, in its foreward explanations has made it very clear, that as the results of screening are used for evidentiary purposes, it is necessary to ensure that onsite and laboratory screenings are substantially equivalent.

That “equivalence” is measured by both on-site screening and Laboratory testing being awarded accredited laboratory status.

For on-site screening, this necessitates the implementation of procedures such as quality controls, proficiency testing, verification of testing devices, competency based training and most importantly accreditation.

Also as part of the accreditation audit process is that the company carrying out the on-site screening must satisfy the definition of “Collection Agency”. which involves an organization assuming professional, organizational, educational and administrative responsibility for collection, on-site screening (if applicable), storage and dispatch of the urine specimen.

There is currently is only one Government body in New Zealand capable of awarding accreditation to any collection agency enabling the agency to carry out on-site drug testing as per AS/NZS 4308:2008, and that body is IANZ

IANZ is New Zealand’s premier accreditation body. An organisation that holds IANZ accreditation can have confidence in its processes and thereby provide assurance to its customers and clients.

Responsibility for on-site screening is dependent on accreditation”

Sadly, the step of creditable moderation, resulting in accreditation has generally failed to occur in our drug testing, to satisfy the process raised in the previous paragraph.

Moderation, is the process of verifying the adherence to a set of principles or standard requirements, or specifications to establish conformance.

It makes sense and is entirely logical that if an outcome is determined by following a prescription, then that prescription is reviewed to establish that it is robust and has been followed, and the outcome is just and can be relied upon. How else could assurance be obtained.

Parallel processes

The whole issue of Urine drug testing is not that dissimilar to that of alcohol testing by Police.

A set of rules require to be followed, so that a reading is obtained to determine the presence and levels of alcohol in a persons breath. The testing device must be calibrated and approved. These results and process can be the subject of scrutiny in court and the subject of cross examination of the Police officer undertaking the test. Deviation from the testing procedure can result in dismissal of the results.

Similarly, if the testing procedures in the collection and screening of urine to determine the presence of a drug are not followed, or the testing device is not compliant, or the accreditation of the on site screening organisation has not been approved, then they also could be the subject of challenge.

Consider an employee who, as a result of a non-negative test followed by a positive confirmation from an approved laboratory, is summarily dismissed from her employment. She challenges the result and the process, and during that hearing in the Employment Court, it is determined that the entity who took and screened the test had not had its processes independently verified. This raises the question as to whether the employee has a valid unjustified dismissal claim against her employer. More specifically, does the employer’s failure to use an independently verified on-site screening provider allow the employee to successfully make out an unjustified dismissal claim?

The Court will look at the information that the employer had at the time of the dismissal when assessing whether the decision to terminate was fair. The question will be whether the employer knew or ought to have known that the entity did not have the independent verification. If the entity held itself out as reputable and the employer had no reason to doubt that its drug screening processes were robust at the time, then the Court may find that the employer was entitled to rely on the results provided by the organisation. However to get to this point the employer has had to spend considerable sums of money to defend its stance and state of knowledge. A costly exercise that could be avoided.

Employers resonsibilities

To save this argument arising, it would be good practice for the employer to carry out its own due diligence on the provider to ensure that it is IANZ accredited (due diligence may be carried out by simply checking the IANZ website and/or requesting to sight the IANZ accreditation certificate of the provider). Such practice would help the employer to demonstrate it has taken all the necessary steps that a fair and reasonable employer could have taken in all the circumstances.

With the amount of money spent by employers every year on testing in the workplace, why wouldn’t they want some assurances? The collector and on site screening without accreditation raises the opportunity to consider a breach of the Consumer Guarantees Act.

ENDS

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