What should employers know about drug and alcohol tests?

From the short line railroad connecting customer freight with Class I’s, to the lone truck crisscrossing the nation’s major interstates or one of the many regional airlines transporting travelers across states, drug and alcohol testing remain a key component of every safety plan.

All regulatory bodies in the transportation industry have a drug and alcohol testing program, a key component of ensuring optimal safety for employees, customers, and the environment organization-wide. Effective drug and alcohol testing programs help employers identify workers who have substance abuse issues or are repeatedly reporting for work under the influence, and ensures compliance with applicable safety regulations.

Let’s break down why drug and alcohol tests are required in the first place, who this requirement applies to, tips for implementing a testing program in your organization, and some important considerations to keep in mind for testing.

You have a duty to test

Who is required to administer drug and alcohol tests?

Employers in companies who are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) have some general responsibilities to test under 49 CFR Part 40. This regulation applies DOT-wide, which means it includes companies governed by:

  1. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
  2. Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
  3. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
  4. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  5. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)`
  6. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)

At a high level, drug and alcohol testing is required for safety-sensitive employees who have used drugs or alcohol within a specific timeframe before reporting for work. alcohol. Each federal agency has specific testing regulations that outline who is subject to testing regulations.

You can think of safety-sensitive employees as ones whose roles require them to perform tasks that pose a safety risk. Maybe they’re maintaining railroad tracks, or driving a truck on a national interstate. Their lives and the lives of their colleagues and the community may be at risk, so it’s necessary for them to be on alert.

Let’s use the trucking industry as an example. Under the FMCSA’s Drug & Alcohol Testing Program, employees that possess commercial drives license must follow drug and alcohol testing rules at the mandated frequency and for the included substances.

Often, drug and alcohol tests are conducted randomly, in compliance with the randomized testing rates that industry regulators set and ensuring that testing is fair for employees. As an example, the FRA randomized testing rate is 25%, and the FMCSA random testing rate is 50%. Given that truckers are on the road and driving with the general public, the safety risks are much higher.

How you can implement drug and alcohol tests in your organization

There are several types of drug and alcohol tests which are administered through various methods, including urine and blood samples, saliva tests, hair drug tests, breath alcohol tests, and urine drug screening. As an employer conducting testing, you’ll most likely work with a third-part lab or collector, who’ll analyze the samples and share the results, such as if the employee tested as either negative or positive.

As a regulated employer, you’ll want to set up a program that is compliant with industry regulatory bodies and the requirements they have for drug and alcohol testing. This includes testing of employees’ pre-employment, or following an accident or incident. Your company’s collectors, BATs, or STTs may also be required to undergo refresher training if there are changes to requirements like regulatory amendments, or with changes in technology.

The USDOT has also shared some best practices for random drug and alcohol testing.

Important considerations

Besides the fact that many companies in the transportation industry area required to conduct drug and alcohol testing, there is an underlying, organization-wide need to leverage consistent, compliant testing to build a safety culture. This culture extends beyond departments, job functions, and locations. It places the safety-first mentality in the minds of your employees, which can be more effective than a compulsive approach to enforcing regulatory safety measures.

Proactive, nimble transportation companies today are looking for ways to streamline and optimize drug and alcohol testing from a more intelligent approach. For example, you can leverage technology enablers such as AI/ML, cloud-based data management, advanced analytics, and business intelligence to guarantee fair and randomized testing pools, generate quotas that meet established, industry rates, and respond to increases in drug and alcohol-related accidents and incidents.

At the end of the day, you as an employer are putting your employees’ safety first, reducing safety risks and liability, and guaranteeing compliance with applicable regulations.

Have you read our Industry Perspective “Strategies to build a safety culture in railroads through technology”?