According to American federal laws, alcohol consumption is legal among adults above 21 years. Moreover, alcohol consumption is an inextricable part of American culture, from wine at dinner tables to champagne toasts during celebrations and six-pack beers for tailgating and game night.
However, irresponsible alcohol consumption has dire consequences within and away from the workplace. Consequently, all US states have DUI laws stipulating the legal blood alcohol limit within their jurisdictions.
Workplaces can also institute policies restricting alcohol consumption for employee safety. As a result, they conduct an alcohol breath test from time to time.
Let’s look at what alcohol breath testing is and why it matters in the workplace in detail.
What is an Alcohol Breath Test?
An alcohol breath test is a breath exam conducted using a breathalyzer device to establish the alcohol blood level in an individual at a specific time. It is among the evidential tests approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for alcohol screening. Trained specialists called breath alcohol technicians (BATs), or screen testing technicians (STTs) administer the alcohol breath tests using a breathalyzer device.
Alcohol intoxication takes effect from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on your tolerance level. The body absorbs 80% of the alcohol via the small intestines, and the liver breaks it down at one ounce per hour. Therefore, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) depends on how much liquor you consume.
While multiple vendors sell breathalyzers, the DOT is the sole body mandated to check breathalyzer quality, guaranteeing accuracy. DOT-approved breathalyzers detect your BAC from the alcohol fumes in your breath. Individuals undertaking the test exhale into the breathalyzer and receive their BAC reading within a minute.
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Alcohol Breath Testing At The Workplace
Besides road carnage, an alcohol-induced impairment may also have devastating effects at the workplace. According to the Center for Disease Control, excessive alcohol consumption’s economic burden arising from reduced productivity, absenteeism, and injury is millions of dollars.
Moreover, one government publication shows a correlation between alcohol impairment and cognitive and motor functions impairment. So, although there is no federal law stipulating the recommended BAC for all employees at the workplace, employees working under safety-sensitive industries are subject to multiple BAC tests.
The Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance recommended that all organizations under the transport industry participate in the drug and alcohol testing program. Under the program, all employers and employees holding commercial drivers’ licenses or working in DOT agencies like the FAA must submit to alcohol testing protocols.
The minimum recommended annual tests depend on employees’ technical skill level to operate specific transport modes and the accident rates associated with the mode in question. However, the DOT prohibits its staff from taking alcohol four hours before reporting to work as a general rule. The DOT has also set the industry’s BAC at 0.02% for staff under the department.
In contrast, employers outside government departments have no obligation to submit their staff to drug testing programs. However, there are also no federal laws restricting private-sector employers from conducting breath alcohol tests as they deem necessary. Regardless, employers should avoid infringing employee rights while enforcing drug policies, especially in states where random alcohol tests are illegal.
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Importance of Alcohol Breath Testing to The Workplace
There are multiple evidentiary and non-evidentiary BAC tests that can be administered within and outside the workplace. However, the alcohol breath test is ideal for the workplace for the following reasons.
- A breathalyzer is non-invasive compared to other testing methods like blood and urine tests. The non-invasive nature makes employees more willing to comply with such organizational policies.
- Alcohol breath tests enable employers to notice any employee with potential alcohol dependency issues and stage a timely intervention and recovery support.
- Alcohol impairment hampers vital cognitive and mobility functions, including hand-eye coordination and reaction time, leading to accidents. Therefore, a breathalyzer test prevents injury to employees and loss of company resources.
- Alcohol breath testing also helps create a drug-free work environment, helping enhance staff productivity.
Reasonable Circumstances for Employers to Conduct Alcohol Breath Tests
During The Recruitment Process
Employers want to avoid dealing with disciplinary issues like absenteeism due to alcohol indulgence. Therefore, they find it prudent to test prospective candidates for alcohol to set the tone for a drug-free environment.
When They Notice Suspicious Behavior
Organizations must maintain a safe work environment for their staff. Therefore, employers reserve the right to conduct alcohol breath testing when they notice unbecoming behavior, pointing towards alcohol abuse among employees.
Pre-planned alcohol testing schedules may give affected employees ample opportunity to use devious means to avoid the test or cheat. Therefore, employers may summon employees for random alcohol breath tests to ensure accurate results.
After An Incident
Any accidents or incidents at the workplace require investigation to give affected parties a fair chance to defend themselves or avoid a repeat of the incidence. The affected parties may undergo alcohol breath tests to rule out impairment as a probable cause during such an investigation.
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Alcohol breath testing is a fast and efficient way to determine individuals’ toxicity levels. It is crucial in workplaces where employees perform jobs where cognitive impairment can cause disastrous effects, other people or the environment.