Device drug-tests construction workers with mere tap of finger

Billed as an improvement on collecting urine, a new system that uses a simple touch to test construction workers for drug use has hit the market.

It’s the first kit in the world to be able to detect cocaine, opiates, cannabis and amphetamines in the sweat of a digit, says Cambridge, UK-based firm Intelligent Fingerprinting.

The test takes just five seconds and respects the dignity of those being tested better than saliva or urine tests, the company said.

It works by detecting the metabolites that the body produces when it breaks down different kinds of drug, and which are excreted in sweat.

Developed by David Russell, a chemistry professor from the University of East Anglia, the system combines a portable reader, a one-touch drug screening cartridge and a tamper-detecting collection kit for laboratory analysis.

Paul Yates, the company’s business development director, said: "construction firms can enjoy all the benefits of fingerprint-based drug testing and be confident about the end-to-end reliability of their process".

Should an employee’s test prove positive, two further samples are gathered and tested at a laboratory nominated by Intelligent Fingerprinting.

The company, which formed in 2007, says informed written consent should be obtained from the donor prior to collection, along with a statement of the donor’s prescription medication.

The use of drugs by construction workers is thought to be fairly widespread. In Australia, random testing is now mandatory on projects where the public sector contributes more than A$10m of the costs. One survey in Queensland found that one in five site operatives tested positive for cannabis or cocaine.

In the UK in 2016, a survey of 1,200 construction workers found that 59% of them had concerns about the misuse of drugs and alcohol in the industry, with 35% reporting seeing colleagues under the influence, and about a quarter reporting issues with tiredness and inattention caused by drugs and alcohol, or their after-effects.

Image: The machine that "reads" the sweat sample (Intelligent Fingerprinting)

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