For some industries, random urine tests are an invaluable tool in the protection of employees. For instance, as part of biological monitoring. Their aim is to check that other control measures designed to prevent and protect an employee from substances that can cause harm and ill health are identified and acted upon quickly.
For example, in the car spraying industry there is an issue with isocyanates in the paints, including water based paints. The local exhaust ventilation systems are examined on a twelve monthly basis, but if there was an issue with this piece of equipment it would not be discovered until the next examination which could be several months away. Random urine test of different employees working as vehicle sprayers involves the collection of a urine sample after the completion of a working shift. This is sent off for analysis to see if there are any metabolites in the urine which will indicate if the local exhaust ventilation is working as this along with the use of respiratory face masks is a key component in the prevention of occupational asthma caused by isocyanate paints.
Isocyanates are also found in two pack paints, laquers, underseals and varnishes; glues and adhesives; foam and plastic production; building products (floor mastics, floor seals, fillers, attic treatments etc) and hot work on polyurethane foam.
I must point out that urine tests for isocyantes give no health information, they merely measure of exposure through inhalation during the shift.
However biological monitoring provokes criticism and concerns from some. For a successful biological monitoring system to work employers should adopt the following process
- Understand the purpose of the programme
- Appoint a competent person to manage the scheme, who is a good communicator
- Define a monitoring strategy
- Speak with employees or their representatives (Note: there are requirements for consultation with employees on matters relating to their health and safety. You can get further information on this from the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 and the Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996.)
- Agree the programme with individuals affected
- Establish procedures for the collection, transportation and analysis of samples
- Feedback the results
The purpose of setting up biological monitoring in any industry is to assess what are the real risks to the health of any employee. As such, involving the employees in the set-up of the program and gaining their informed consent at the earliest opportunity is advisable.
Other occupations which are safety critical such as train drivers, delivery drivers etc may also be subject to urine tests to ensure they are fully in control of their vehicle and not under the influence of any alcohol or drugs which can impair their ability to drive and ultimately put themselves and members of the public in danger.
Ultimately under Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employees have a duty to ensure they do not injure fellow employees or persons not employed by the company when they carry out their role.
Where companies are using the urine testing to identify other issues in relation to an employee’s use of illegal recreational drugs then caution should be taken as this could be construed as an infringement on the qualified right of article 8 of the Human Rights Act, the right to respect for private and family life. This is a sensitive area that requires careful planning and reasoning before a company establishes a testing program.