Guide to Impairment Testing & Fitness for Work

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Woodworker works on machine, lumber industry

Workplace Impairment Testing…is the most effective way to determine if your workers are Fit For WorkIn recent years, and particularly over this past year, workplace impairment testing has achieved unprecedented popularity amongst safety-sensitive workplaces. With the increased health and safety threat posed by COVID-19, the inadequacy of drug testing and growing workplace mental health issues, safety leaders have been forced to accept change and innovation as the only reasonable path forward. This has placed the spotlight on impairment testing to be the next in line amongst top safety initiatives patiently awaiting universal adoption.

What is Impairment Testing in the Workplace?

Impairment testing is the ability to determine if a worker’s presence could put themselves or others at risk, by directly measuring an individual’s current fitness for duty. The keyword from the above is current. If your safety procedures don’t anticipate safety risk or identify it in real-time, the effectiveness of these procedures is reduced. By focusing on the right indicators at the right times, your team will possess the data and insights that make incidents and accidents suddenly a lot more predictable.

What is the Science behind impairment testing?

Impairment tests typically measure the functionality of a combination of several cognitive information processes (against a baseline) that are essential to the ability of workers to perform their tasks safely and efficiently, which can include:

  • Perception
  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Processing speed
  • Executive Functions: these include: flexibility, anticipation/prediction, problem-solving, decision making, emotional self-regulation, sequencing and inhibition


Individual baselines personalise user performance and scoring in a way that controls for external variables such as intelligence, language, education level, or familiarity with technology. Essentially, this means that it doesn’t matter how well or poorly a user performs on the test. Instead, what is being measured is the user’s deviation from his/her typical cognitive behaviour. Typically, there is slight deviation in everyone’s cognitive performance from day-to-day and even from morning to afternoon. Significant deviation, however, has shown to be an accurate indicator of significant cognitive impairment. Not everyone’s cognitive function and abilities are the same. As humans we can also learn how to do a task or test better through repetition. That is why establishing a rolling personal baseline is essential for any impairment testing to be successful.

What are the causes of impairment?

Impairment can be defined as:“A reduction from one’s INDIVIDUAL optimal functionality and therefore is USUALLY a temporary state”For example, the main factors that can cause impairment include:

  • Fatigue
  • Drugs & Alcohol
  • Illness
  • Emotional Distress/Mental Health
  • Pre-occupation.

It is important to know that impairment testing can NOT determine the cause of impairment. It is purely identifying when a person is in a state that may represent a danger to either themselves or others in the workplace. When impairment has been detected, supervisors are encouraged to reach out to the worker with empathy, and follow existing HR policies, appropriate to the circumstances.

What are the benefits of impairment tests?

The main benefit of impairment testing is its ability to function as an agent of change towards a more positive workplace culture. This comes as an inevitable consequence of the smaller changes it sparks:

  • Workplace impairment testing allows for more personal feedback – At the end of each impairment test, workers receive instant feedback concerning their state of mind and ability to work safely. This instant personal feedback empowers workers to take responsibility for their own safety, increase their awareness in identifying key human factors behind workplace incidents, and allow them to make better safety decisions
  • Workplace impairment testing prompts more safety conversations -Many supervisors do not have the time to meet with each of their workers to make sure they are doing well mentally, physically, and emotionally each and every day. Impairment tests give supervisors an objective starting point to begin important safety conversations with just the right workers at just the right time. Since the impairment test will not reveal the cause of impairment, supervisors must utilize their communication and empathy skills to identify and address the problem in the positive and proactive manner. Ultimately, workers feel heard and supported.
  • Workplace impairment testing provides increased insights into the underlying causes of human error – Until modern day technology made workplace impairment testing accessible and efficient in workplaces, drug testing was the sole objective measure of the myriad of factors behind human error. This meant workplaces had a much narrower understanding of what constituted a “fit-for-duty worker.” With the advent of impairment testing, workplaces suddenly received much more insight about a plethora of factors constituting worker impairment.
  • Workplace impairment testing increases worker awareness about how to address underlying causes of human error. With the instant feedback and insights provided by impairment testing, workers are now given greater responsibility and motivation to make better decisions concerning their own health and safety. With daily feedback, workers start to recognise the impact of the behaviour and cognitive impairment, and they often start taking proactive steps to mitigate or avoid it in the future.
  • Workplace impairment testing increases empathy and trust amongst workers -When workplaces have a way to measure previously undetected human factors, they not only become more aware of their own vulnerabilities but also more understanding of their co-workers’ vulnerabilities. Workers in close knit teams often share the source of their impairment with their co-workers–a sleepless night, an ill family member, some troubling news. This allows co-workers to empathize with one another, learn to prioritize each other’s mental and physical wellness, and be supportive instead of judgmental
  • Workplace impairment testing fosters safety through support rather than punitive measures – By adopting a top-level perspective on impairment, supervisors are forced to be supportive and communicate effectively in order to identify the cause of impairment. Ultimately, by being supportive instead of punitive, supervisors are able to create a learning opportunity for both the worker and for the management of the workforce. Learning opportunities can lead to improved shift scheduling, more timely breaks, more comfortable PPE etc.
  • Workplace impairment testing enforces a heightened sense of personal responsibility and accountability for safety. Feedback provided by daily impairment testing means that workers are compelled to take ownership over their own safety. Instead of blaming an incident on being too tired or being distracted by something, workers realise that these factors are now within their awareness and, therefore, within their control.
  • Workplace impairment testing reduces worker fear of speaking up or asking for help. These greater cultural changes in the workplace mean that workers are no longer afraid of speaking up or asking for help when they may be struggling with impairment
  • Workplace impairment testing can lead to a reduction in more invasive safety measures, eg: Drug Testing. By only relying on invasive measures of impairment, workplaces can unwittingly send the message that control over workers’ lives and punitive action are essential components of your safety system. By diversifying and modernising your safety program with a more positive and worker friendly safety measure, workplaces can drive home the point that safety is the goal, not control or discipline

Is impairment testing right for your company?

When deciding whether impairment testing will be successful at your company, consider the following.

  • What industry is your company in? Impairment testing has been successfully implemented in wide range of safety-sensitive industries such as: aviation, transportation, manufacturing, construction, mining, oil and gas, utilities, healthcare, and more.
  • What is the size of your company? Impairment testing is beneficial in different ways depending on the size of your company. In small companies, supervisors may have greater visibility and communicate more often with their workers than in large companies. Impairment tests can provide the structure or routine necessary to consistently prioritize safety even within the more relaxed and intimate team environment often seen in smaller companies. In larger companies, impairment tests are a great way for overburdened supervisors to get a quick glimpse into the fitness of their entire team. This ensures an efficient and effective use of the supervisor’s time and gets workers the help they need much quicker than if they had to wait until the next supervisor to walk through and notice them
  • Where is your company located? Impairment tests have been successfully implemented everywhere from the gold mines of Siberia, to the coal mines in South Africa, to hospitals in England, and the truck stops of Midwestern United States. Thanks to modern technology, impairment tests can also be integrated into telematics and timekeeping systems.
  • What is the language/education level of your workers? The language, education level and technological savviness of your workers are irrelevant when implementing impairment tests because workers establish their own personal baselines that control for their level of familiarity and comfort.
  • What are your workers’ shift schedules like? Impairment tests are a great safety boost for shift-workers. Especially long or graveyard shifts, as well as workers on rotating shift schedules can benefit from the additional visibility provided by impairment tests.
  • What do worker’s unions think about impairment testing? Since impairment tests put the focus on worker well-being rather than catching wrong-doing, they are usually welcomed by unions. If your company is considering impairment testing, it is important to involve union leaders in early conversations to ensure they are well-informed participants in the discussion
  • Most importantly, what does your safety culture look like now and what are your objectives going forward? Companies who adopt impairment testing have stated one or several of the following objectives in driving their decision:
  • We want to become more proactive and positive in our safety culture.
  • We just had an accident we weren’t able to predict.
  • We need to combat fatigue better.
  • We need to address drug and alcohol impairment in real-time. .
  • We need to reduce our error rate.
  • We want to improve productivity.
  • We want to address invisible safety threats (personal family crisis, emotional distraction, change in medications, etc.).
  • Our supervisors don’t have enough time to check in on everyone every day, so we need more automated, timely insights.
  • We are looking for something new and innovative to keep us competitive in safety.


Although there is a rapidly growing demand for comprehensive insights and positivity in modern workplaces, there is limited access and awareness surrounding impairment tests. Fortunately, AlertMeter® with over 75 million hours of testing time within many internationally based companies, has now been released to Australia and New Zealand . AlertMeter® uses an individual’s baseline combined with perception, decision-making, accuracy, speed, shape recognition, hand-eye coordination, and memory all in one, 60-second test taken on a smartphone or iPad/tablet. Validated by NIOSH and backed up by real results, has shown to have contributed up to a 70% reduction in workers compensation claims, 11% increase in productivity and reduced employee turnover of 35%. Any proactive and safety conscious businesses can now have access to this innovative patented technology . For further information or to book a free demo, contact Alert For Work.

Leave a Replay

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get latest updates and offers directly to your inbox.