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 How an eye-scanning technology will revolutionize testing for impairment in the workplace

By Colleen Birchwood

 

The legalization of cannabis has many employers scrambling to catch up with the legislation, particularly in industries in which working safely can prevent serious injuries and even save lives. One employer in the heavy construction industry plans on using cutting-edge technology to ensure workers aren’t impaired or fatigued on the job.

Morsky Industrial Services Ltd. will be the first construction company in Canada to implement the SafetyScan Technologies system. SafetyScan is a real-time screening system that detects psychomotor impairment for alcohol, drugs and cognitive fatigue through a 30-second test of involuntary eye movement.

How does the technology work? An infrared camera tracks an employee’s eye movement and the test result is then analyzed using SafetyScan’s proprietary algorithm. The result is compared to each employee’s benchmark or previously measured “normal” baseline.

When police officers pull over drivers to test for alcohol impairment, they usually ask the driver to visually follow a tip of a pen or pen light. An impaired person will experience horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) – an involuntary movement or bouncing of the eye when it gazes to the side.

SafetyScan also looks for HGN, but it is a far more sophisticated system that measures 20 other factors, including how fast the eye moves and pupil dilation. “It’s a simple, non-invasive, 30-second test done before an employee begins work to determine fitness for duty,” said Randal Roberts, the president of SafetyScan Technologies. “It’s not a gotcha product. It’s designed to respect worker privacy and help companies manage any kind of impairment.”

The test result is either a pass or a refer. “What ‘refer’ means is we have found some impairment. We don’t know what the cause is, but we are flagging that impairment. The next step would be determined by that company’s HR policies,” said Roberts.

Although Morsky, a Regina-based heavy construction company, has an outstanding safety record, the decision to implement SafetyScan is an effort to raise the safety bar to protect workers and clients from workplace accidents.

Drug and alcohol testing have been a part of Morsky’s safety policies for years, but the company is always looking for ways to augment those policies. “Safety is one of our core values and the search to improve safety in the workplace never ends,” said Lorne Schnell, president of Morsky Industrial Services Ltd. “We want to be leaders in the industry.”

Even though cannabis is currently the topic du jour, it shouldn’t overshadow the other ways a worker can be impaired. “Statistically speaking, the impact of fatigue needs to be front and centre. That is the cause of more accidents than drugs and alcohol put together,” said Schnell. “What changing laws have done is push the safety conversation towards overall fitness for duty. Regardless of how an individual might feel about legalization, those broader conversations themselves are very healthy. Fitness for duty testing eliminates the concerns about knowing details about an employee’s lifestyle and simply focuses on if they are ready to go, right now.”

The management team’s decision to implement SafetyScan involved in-depth discussions with senior management and communications with employees. “The whole legalization of marijuana issue is a non-issue as far as we are concerned. We would be bringing this technology in regardless. It’s just the right thing to do and alleviates so many concerns,” said Schnell.

Morsky will soon begin the process of onboarding employees, which involves establishing a baseline for each employee followed by 10 days of testing to fine tune the baseline. Once those baselines have been established, Morsky will conduct daily testing as an ongoing part of the company’s safety program.

SafetyScan is a desktop system, but a more portable system, comparable to virtual reality goggles, is currently being developed. SafetyScan provides training and onboarding when a company signs up.

The technology is fairly new to the Canadian marketplace, but it has been used in other parts of the world for years. “One of our best markets is in Chile. There are large mining companies that have used it for the last 10 years,” said Roberts. “In Chile, we’ve done millions of tests with our system.”

Although the changes in cannabis laws have caused employers to re-examine their drug and alcohol policies and testing procedures, there are other issues, such as cognitive fatigue, that are just as dangerous, if not more so, than recreational use of cannabis. There’s also pushback and discomfort with the intrusive nature of blood and urine testing, making non-invasive tests, such as SafetyScan, increasingly attractive. The statistical accuracy is another major selling point.

“Right now, we’re getting calls from all over Canada, the U.S. and even Australia. There’s a great deal of interest,” said Roberts. “SafetyScan is like having an automated safety supervisor onsite who tests in a respectful manner. That’s appealing to both employers and employees.”

The technology is cost-effective for a company that has a workforce of around 100 employees, but the next version will be cost effective for a company of any size – less than one dollar a day. That’s a small price to pay for safety.

 

 

 

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.