Special Topics in Safety Management

Report: Drugged Drivers Keep on Truckin’ – What’s in Your Workplace?

A new government report highlights serious flaws in truck driver drug testing enforcement. Several of the report’s key findings and recommendations may well be applied across other industries.

The perils of drugs in the workplace are well-documented, but nowhere are those dangers scarier than when the “workplace” is out on the highways. Even given that, a new report finds that federal and state enforcement efforts are barely scratching the surface of the problem of drug-using truck drivers.

While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and its state partners review thousands of carriers each year, those reviews touch only about 2 percent of the industry, according to the report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which adds, in understated fashion, “As a result, carriers have limited incentives to follow the regulations.

“Factors contributing to failures to detect drug use,” notes the GAO, “include the ease of subverting the urine test, either because collection sites are not following protocols or because drivers are using products widely available to adulterate or substitute urine specimens.”

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Other factors contributing to drivers testing positive while continuing to drive include:

  • Drivers not disclosing their past drug testing history
  • Carriers’ failure to conduct thorough background checks on a driver’s past drug testing history
  • Self-employed owner-operators’ failure to remove themselves from service

Recommendations the GAO says would have the greatest potential for addressing these problems include:

  • Increasing the number of drivers tested by strengthening the enforcement of safety audits for new carriers
  • Reducing opportunities to subvert drug tests by increasing authority to levy fines when collection sites do not follow federal protocols, and by instituting a federal ban on drug test subversion products
  • Reducing the number of drivers who test positive and continue to drive by building a national database of drug testing information
  • Encouraging states to suspend a driver’s commercial driver’s license after a positive drug test (or refusal to test) in order to compel drivers to more quickly clean up their acts in completing the return-to-duty process

Many feel that a number of issues identified by the GAO are likely to extend into other industries. These include inadequate background checks, readily available drug-test subversion products, and lax testing procedures.

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In a series of articles, the Labor and Employment Law Blog examined key elements of drug abuse prevention programs, including reasons why companies test for drugs. Scenarios discussed include:

  • Job applicant testing: This is the most common employer drug testing practice, has the greatest deterrent effect, and is the most cost-effective. Keeping abusers out of your workforce helps avoid costly problems involving safety, productivity, and absenteeism.
  • Testing employees in safety-conscious jobs:  “Jobs involving the safety, health, and security of the employee, his or her co-workers, and the public, represent a compelling public interest and may warrant special employer precautions to assure that its workforce is ‘drug-free,’” according to the blog.
  • Incident-driven drug testing: Specific incidents may raise employer suspicions of drug abuse and justify testing. These could include medical emergencies that appear to be drug-related, or observing drugs or drug paraphernalia at an employee’s desk or work station.
  • Post-accident investigation drug-testing: On-the-job accidents that may involve human error often trigger drug testing of the employees involved.

Tomorrow we’ll look at three other conditions that the Labor and Employment Law Blog says prompt employers to test. And we’ll also look at legal and other points to consider in implementing an illegal drug and alcohol policy to help safeguard your company from the devastating effects of substance abuse on worker health, productivity, and morale.