Educating Employees About Breath Alcohol Myths and Misconceptions: Part One.
Professionals in the alcohol test field and the employers for whom they work believe that their alcohol testing programs are reasonable and the alcohol testing they perform gives accurate results that can be relied upon – but do their employees believe the same?
Employers have confidence in the reliability and accuracy of alcohol test results because they know that alcohol test devices must meet standards of precision and accuracy set by the DOT, that operators must be trained to perform the testing, that the breath testing instruments must be frequently checked for accuracy, and that typically the accuracy checks show that the instruments are giving very accurate results.
However, we can’t assume that every employee has the same confidence that alcohol test results are accurate, and that the restrictions on alcohol use spelled out in a company’s substance abuse policy are reasonable. In the 25 years we have conducted Breath Alcohol Technician training we have heard all types of myths and misinformation about alcohol testing which may create doubt in the accuracy and reliability of alcohol testing devices and the alcohol testing process.
Employers who address these myths can increase their employees’ confidence in the alcohol testing program and requirements. Here’s some of the misinformation we’ve heard over the years, and how to address them.
Officer, I only had two beers!
It’s a cliché that when a person is arrested for drunk driving the individual says, “I’ve only had two beers.” Professionals with knowledge about BAC levels know that two 12 oz. beers will not make a person intoxicated over the 0.08 limit for drunk driving in the U.S. Depending on the gender and size of the individual, it takes more than two drinks to reach the .08 level. But the claim of “only two drinks” is repeated so often that, in the mind of an individual not inclined to trust law enforcement or institutions, it creates doubt in the accuracy of the alcohol test results. It’s safe to assume that this doubt in the accuracy of alcohol test results carries over to workplace testing as well. Employers can address the “two beer” fallacy by educating their employees about the facts of alcohol intoxication and providing resources such as the Drink Wheel that calculates alcohol levels based on weight, gender, number of drinks, and time.
“My law enforcement buddy says the breathalyzer my employer uses is not admissible in my state.”
The buddy may be correct in saying that a particular breathalyzer model is not admissible in his state for law enforcement, but erroneously assumes that state law enforcement regulations and procedures also apply to workplace alcohol testing. The fact is that almost every state has procedures or regulations that identify one or two breathalyzers as permissible for use as evidential use for law enforcement, which enables the state to focus their resources on supporting and defending those one or two instruments.
Companies performing workplace alcohol testing, particularly for companies with DOT-covered employees, follow a very different set of guidelines than law enforcement. Not only must companies choose instruments that meet requirements different than law enforcement (breath alcohol devices for DOT alcohol testing are evaluated at the 0.02 level, as opposed to devices used by law enforcement that are evaluated at the .08 and .10 level), but the protocol used by law enforcement is very different than the DOT protocol. One major difference in protocols is that when law enforcement does a DUI test they assume the individual has been drinking, and observe a 15 minute wait period before the first test. DOT testing, the vast majority of which is random, assumes that the individual has not been drinking, and observes a 15 minute wait period only after a positive screening test.
Companies can address this by including information on the DOT requirements for alcohol testing instruments when orientating employees to their drug and alcohol policy.
You can beat an alcohol test
We’ve heard several myths over the years about how to beat an alcohol test: hold a penny under your tongue, and eat peanut butter before the tests are two common ones. Neither of these will cause a false negative test. There is no way to mask the alcohol that is in a person’s breath.
Sometimes an individual who has been caught drinking will try to blow very softly, so as not to blow as much alcohol-laden breath into the device. Most breath alcohol testing devices are designed to give error messages when an individual does not blow an adequate breath sample.
Although an individual cannot mask the alcohol in their breath, hyperventilation just prior to blowing into the testing device can slightly lower – but not hide – the alcohol concentration in the breath. A trained breath alcohol technician will be alert for this behavior and not allow a subject to do this.
These are a just a few examples of myths and misconceptions we have encountered over the years. We will address more myths and how to best address them in our November blog article. Please stay tuned.