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Eye scanner introduced to test for drugs in the workplace

London Independent

An eye scanner designed to discover if employees have taken drugs or drunk heavily has been launched in Britain amid growing concerns over testing in the workplace.

The test, which measures the reaction speed of the pupils, can even gauge if staff are affected by tiredness, the makers said. Only 4 per cent of companies in Britain test for drugs but a Mori survey earlier this year found that another 10 per cent expected to introduce checks within 12 months.

But workplace testing has increased concerns over the rights of workers, who could be sacked for what they do in their leisure hours.

The human rights group Liberty said drug screening for jobs requiring top performance such as airline pilots was acceptable but not where the safety factor was lower. Mark Littlewood, campaigns director for Liberty, said: "This is a short and sharp test. No doubt you could certainly do more testing with this equipment. If your performance is being impaired by snorting cocaine or drinking too much you could be subject to disciplinary procedures anyway."

The makers of the latest device claim it is the first to measure "impairment" rather than analyse urine or swabs for drugs that can remain in the system for days afterwards. As many as 2 million people are estimated to take ecstasy each weekend.

The Eye Check Pupilometer, costing 10,000, is held to the eye and scans using green light flashing at the pupils. It gives an instant reading of the pupil's reaction speed. Those who display slow reaction times in the four-minute test could then face further checks to confirm the presence of drink or drugs.

Yolande Burgin, the director of an independent inquiry into drug testing at work, said none of the devices was completely effective. "It's something that employers need to be very clear about before they do it," she said. "They are not particularly cost-effective."

London Underground has a strict drug policy, which includes testing and a ban on staff going into pubs or off-licences wearing their uniforms. Rail companies tests drivers randomly and other firms do tests after accidents or before a new worker joins.

Hampton Knight, the British company distributing the US-built device, said that a large company with drivers among its employees had bought it and two police forces were testing it. It was "between 98 and 99 per cent effective".

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