Random drug and alcohol testing for preventing injury in workers

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Abstract

Background: Drug- and alcohol-related impairment in the workplace has been linked to an increased risk of injury for workers. Randomly testing populations of workers for these substances has become a practice in many jurisdictions, with the intention of reducing the risk of workplace incidents and accidents. Despite the proliferation of random drug and alcohol testing (RDAT), there is currently a lack of consensus about whether it is effective at preventing workplace injury, or improving other non-injury accident outcomes in the work place. Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of workplace RDAT to prevent injuries and improve non-injury accident outcomes (unplanned events that result in damage or loss of property) in workers compared with no workplace RDAT. Search methods: We conducted a systematic literature search to identify eligible published and unpublished studies. The date of the last search was 1 November 2020. We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, Embase, two other databases, Google Scholar, and three trials registers. We also screened the reference lists of relevant publications known to us. Selection criteria: Study designs that were eligible for inclusion in our review included randomised controlled trials (RCTs), cluster-randomised trials (CRTs), interrupted time-series (ITS) studies, and controlled before-after (CBA) studies. Studies needed to evaluate the effectiveness of RDAT in preventing workplace injury or improving other non-injury workplace outcomes. We also considered unpublished data from clinical trial registries. We included employees working in all safety-sensitive occupations, except for commercial drivers, who are the subject of another Cochrane Review. Data collection and analysis: Independently, two review authors used a data collection form to extract relevant characteristics from the included study. They then analysed a line graph included in the study of the prevalence rate of alcohol violations per year. Independently, the review authors completed a GRADE assessment, as a means of rating the quality of the evidence. Main results: Although our searching originally identified 4198 unique hits, only one study was eligible for inclusion in this review. This was an ITS study that measured the effect of random alcohol testing (RAT) on the test positivity rate of employees of major airlines in the USA from 1995 to 2002. The study included data from 511,745 random alcohol tests, and reported no information about testing for other substances. The rate of positive results was the only outcome of interest reported by the study. The average rate of positive results found by RAT increased from 0.07% to 0.11% when the minimum percentage of workers who underwent RAT annually was reduced from 25% to 10%. Our analyses found this change to be a statistically significant increase (estimated change in level, where the level reflects the average percentage points of positive tests = 0.040, 95% confidence interval 0.005 to 0.075; P = 0.031). Our GRADE assessment, for the observed effect of lower minimum testing percentages associating with a higher rate of positive test results, found the quality of the evidence to be 'very low' across the five GRADE domains. The one included study did not address the following outcomes of interest: fatal injuries; non-fatal injuries; non-injury accidents; absenteeism; and adverse effects associated with RDAT. Authors' conclusions: In the aviation industry in the USA, the only setting for which the eligible study reported data, there was a statistically significant increase in the rate of positive RAT results following a reduction in the percentage of workers tested, which we deem to be clinically relevant. This result suggests an inverse relationship between the proportion of positive test results and the rate of testing, which is consistent with a deterrent effect for testing. No data were reported on adverse effects related to RDAT. We could not draw definitive conclusions regarding the effectiveness of RDAT for employees in safety-sensitive occupations (not including commercial driving), or with safety-sensitive job functions. We identified only one eligible study that reflected one industry in one country, was of non-randomised design, and tested only for alcohol, not for drugs or other substances. Our GRADE assessment resulted in a 'very low' rating for the quality of the evidence on the only outcome reported. The paucity of eligible research was a major limitation in our review, and additional studies evaluating the effect of RDAT on safety outcomes are needed.

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Els, C., Jackson, T. D., Milen, M. T., Kunyk, D., Wyatt, G., Sowah, D., … Straube, S. (2020, December 27). Random drug and alcohol testing for preventing injury in workers. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD012921.pub2

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