Job Safety

March 6, 2008

To the Oregonian

This article which I submitted to the Oregonian was not published. However it outlines some of the current issues facing legislators on the issue of worker testing. Clearly my article is promoting BLT technology, it’s an Op/Ed piece after all. The proposed new law was shelved.

An Oregonian editorial, “Don’t Make a Bad Marijuana Law Worse” (Feb 4), supports a bill that permits employers to test workers, including those taking legally prescribed marijuana, for drug use. Letters from readers have both criticized and supported this position. Some of the letters make reference to impairment testing which happens to be my special area of expertise. My company, Bowles-Langley Technology, Inc., (BLT), has been developing this technology for the past 10 years and has a practical system for testing workers for impairment before or during work.

The BLT Alertness Test, which takes two (2) minutes to complete, measures reaction time, orientation, decision making and general cognitive performance with a simple computer graphic-based test. Each person is asked to take the test 10 times to establish a baseline. In subsequent testing current performance is measured against this baseline. If an individual measures significantly below his or her baseline, and cannot improve this score in a retest, the individual should be considered to be severely impaired. Employers can develop appropriate policy for management of these individuals based on the nature of the job.

The perfunctory termination of an employee for trace elements of drug metabolites in urine or blood, without regard to his or her actual condition and ability to work, is an arbitrary and unnecessarily crude method to protect the workplace. Practiced as public policy, it actually makes our workplaces less safe because urine testing is used where impairment testing would be superior. Urine testing tests for specific illegal drugs and the results are typically not available for days. The use of legal drugs combined with fatigue or flu, for example, are factors much more likely to cause an employee to be dangerously impaired. But these obvious impairment factors are not considered by urine testing.

If the citizens of Oregon wish to prevent the use of illegal drugs by testing workers’ urine for evidence of past drug use, it is up to them and their representatives. But they should not be misled into thinking that this practice is driven by safety priorities because impairment testing addresses worker safety more efficiently. With the increasing cost of accidents, it is time that worker impairment be addressed directly and not be used as an excuse for promoting popular anti-drug laws that are irrelevant to the issue.