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Study Looks at Costs of Pre-Employment Drug Screening

January 1, 1992

CHICAGO (AP) _ Pre-employment drug tests are more cost-effective when drug use is widespread and for jobs where accidents are expensive, according to a study of U.S. postal workers.

Companies whose potential employees live in areas where drug use is uncommon are more likely to lose money on pre-employment drug tests, says the study published in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers led by Dr. Craig Zwerling of the University of Iowa studied urine samples from 2,533 U.S. Postal Service workers in Boston. Test results were for study use only and were not used in making hiring decisions.

Of the employees, 12.1 percent tested positive for marijuana, cocaine, barbiturates, amphetamines or other illicit drugs.

″Twelve percent was relatively high,″ Zwerling said. ″If you have a lower percentage, you’re less apt to save money.″

Another important factor is the cost of on-the-job accidents, Zwerling said.

In fields where on-the-job accidents resulting from employee error can have catastrophic results, pre-employment drug screening likely would save more money than in lower-risk jobs, Zwerling.

To determine the value of drug testing for the Postal Service, researchers calculated the costs of absenteeism, accidents, injuries and turnover for one year for the 307 employees who tested positive for marijuana.

From that estimated figure - $270.67 per applicant - they subtracted $108.19 for the cost of each drug test and determined that if the postal service had not hired employees who tested positive for drugs, it would have saved $162.48 per worker.

But the researchers noted that their study did not consider such hard-to- measure factors as the cost of the invasion of privacy to obtain the urine sample and the cost of damaging the reputations and careers of those who tested false-positive.

″Consideration of these external costs leads to the ethical and legal arguments about pre-employment screening that are beyond the scope of this article,″ the authors wrote.

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