Three Common Breath Alcohol Confirmation Test Issues.
Very rarely does a Breath Alcohol Technician (BAT) perform a confirmation test, but when they do they may encounter some common breath alcohol confirmation test issues that if addressed incorrectly may result in audit nightmares or even a cancelled test.
A DOT confirmation test is performed on a subject following a positive screening test result of .020 or greater followed by a required :15 wait period. But a lot can happen during that :15 wait period that requires you as the Breath Alcohol Technician, to respond and document information correctly in order for the test result to be “defensible”. In other words, if you don’t want a test result to be cancelled under the DOT guidelines or become subject to legal scrutiny, you must recognize, respond and document the confirmation test issues correctly.
What if the employee leaves the testing facility during the :15 wait period?
In the DOT Regulations, Section 40.261, subpart N, an employee is considered to have refused to take an alcohol test if they fail to remain at the testing site until the testing process is complete. This is considered by the DOT as “prohibited conduct”, and is treated the same as a positive test. The resulting consequences of a positive test slightly vary depending upon the DOT agency. However, many employers choose to terminate the employee’s employment rather than have the employee complete treatment and/or education under the direction of a SAP, pass a return-to-duty test and submit to follow-up tests which are the minimum consequences for returning an employee to work.
If the employee leaves the testing facility during the :15 wait period, you, as the BAT, must make a note in the Remarks section of the Alcohol Testing Form, “employee left the testing facility” and notify the DER immediately. If you fail to properly document this event, you will be required to correct the flaw by issuing a Memorandum for Record in order for the test result to be valid.
What if the employee refuses to sign Step 4 of the ATF?
An employees is require to sign Step 4 if the result of their Confirmation Test is .020 or greater. However, an employee’s refusal to sign Step 4 of the Alcohol Test Form is not considered a refusal to test. The breath sample was successfully submitted and a test result obtained. However, you must make a note in the Remarks section of the form stating, “employee refused to sign Step 4”. If you fail to make a note of the subject’s refusal to sign Step 4 the test will be cancelled unless the BAT corrects the omission with a signed Memorandum for Record.
What if the employee drinks something or puts something in their mouth during the :15 wait period?
Given the tenseness of the situation the :15 wait period can feel a lot longer than :15 for both the BAT and the employee. It would not be uncommon for the employee to take a drink of water or put something in their mouth such as gum during this time to relieve the tension.
If this occurs, you must remind the employee of the wait period instructions…”please do not put anything in your mouth during this wait period”, and then document in the Remarks section, “employee took a drink of water”…or “employee put gum in their mouth”. Being specific is important.
More importantly, you must not start the wait period all over, but must begin the confirmation test at the end of the :15 wait period. Because alcohol is eliminated from the body at a steady rate, delaying the confirmation test by starting the wait period all over may result in a lower confirmation test result, and may potentially lower it below the .020 cut-off level, resulting in a negative test.
Routine training is key
Because most BATs rarely administer confirmation tests it is important for you to routinely practice confirmation test scenarios such as these so you can respond correctly and with confidence to these testing challenges.