Computer impairment testing and therapy rather than drug testing is the focus of O.penVAPE's new Workplace Impairment Policy. The company's CRO Todd Mitchem calls it "a revolutionary approach."
The Denver-based O.penVAPE, which manufactures cannabis oil cartridges and vape pens, was widely criticized earlier this month when they unveiled an invasive drug testing Substance Abuse Policy aimed at weeding out employees who use so-called "dangerous drugs." Wording of the original policy included numerous references to cannabis. Activists were furious. How dare a marijuana company drug test its employees, they implored?
After several weeks of behind-the-scenes discussions with such industry heavy hitters as NORML's Paul Armentano, DPA's Amanda Reiman, Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell and Drug War Facts' Doug McVay, O.penVAPE agreed to completely rewrite its policy.
"We went back to the drawing board to work to help out people battle the things in life that cause impairment," Mitchem tells CelebStoner. "It's a way to check for many things like sleep deprivation, stress and abuse. It's more performance driven."
Computer impairment testing was not in the original policy. Mitchems says "we found it after talking about impairment."
In its 2010 study, "Impairment Testing - Does It Work?" the National Workrights Institute concludes: "Employers who have used impairment testing consistently found that it reduced accidents and was accepted by employees. Moreover, these employers consistently found that it was superior to urine testing in achieving both of these objectives." They also noted that "few employers have used impairment testing, and information concerning that experience is very limited and extremely difficult to obtain."
O.penVAPE's Impairment Policy makes clear that "the Company supports an employee’s freedom to choose legal substances in their off-work time. However, employees are prohibited from consuming legal but impairing substances, including cannabis and alcohol, during working hours, including during meal and break periods. This does not include the legal, authorized and responsible use of cannabis and alcohol at Company-sponsored functions or activities."
Impairment testing is mostly reserved for employees who "hold certain 'Safety Sensitive Positions' within the Company." The Policy outlines "two stages" for testing, starting with computer-impairment testing administered by Bowles-Langley Technologies," followed by "a substance testing process… based upon the results of the computer-based impairment testing."
The Workrights Institute's study identifies Bowles-Langley Technologies in Alameda, California as one of the country's foremost providers of impairment testing. On its website, the company claims: "BLT is a unique company dedicated to providing new solutions for assessing human performance." Founded in 1998, BLT created "the world's first dedicated alertness checking device," known as the BLT Alertness Tester or Alertometer. "This device and the patented system for storing baselines became the basis for expansion into other areas of applied cognitive science." It's primarily geared towards high-risk jobs like pilots and crane operators. "Our technology is a simple and effective way to quickly check for fatigue and impairment," BLT explains. "The typical test takes one minute and compares individual results to a personal baseline. Our tests are graphic, non-linguistic exercises designed to be enjoyable."
O.penVAPE's policy states: "Impairment testing, when deemed appropriate to use, and after a baseline has been established, may take place… Circumstances which could constitute a basis for determining reasonable suspicion may include, but are not limited to:
• Abnormal or erratic behavior on the part of the employee;
• Information provided by a reliable and credible source;
• Direct observation of illegal drug or controlled substance use; or
• Presence of the physical symptoms of illegal drug or controlled substance use (i.e. glassy or bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, dramatically impaired coordination or reflexes, etc.)."
In the case of "a work-related accident that involves any injury or involves property damage, and where a possible cause or contributing factor to such accident, damage or injury is the consumption of impairing substances, sleep deprivation, prescription medications, and alcohol." the "Emergency Clause" will be invoked. "Any employee who fails an impairment test will be asked to meet with The Company’s therapist to see what if any appropriate next steps are needed."
So then no urine testing?
"Not at all," Mitchem says. "The impairment testing takes care of that because abuse will come out of the conversation with the therapist. The only medical testing that might be done is in case of a major accident, car or industrial. Then the pollce will test and we may also protect our employees. I don't want the police to falsely say an employee was on something when there was only a trace amount in their system."
After some initial discord, O.penVAPE is now being hailed for their, well, openness to respond to criticism. While one advocate calls it "refreshing," another boasts, "They got the message loud and clear and have responded accordingly."
Doug McVay, who helped lead the charge, offers: "I will say it appears that once we got their attention, OV saw its blunder and has done something to improve its policies. They may as a result be able to shake off the negative anti-worker image they generated for themselves with their original, poorly-written, punitive piss-testing policy. Impairment testing is something that reformers have suggested as an alternative for quite a few years."
Tom Angell adds: "While O.PenVAPE truly erred with their initial policy, they deserve thanks and congratulations for taking the time to hear our concerns and make things right in the end."
For his part, Mitchem confides, "I am so thankful for the debate because we want to get it right."