According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 3.5 million people in the country work as truck drivers, making up a critically important component of the supply chain. Fleet operators have a duty to keep employees and the public safe by drug-testing drivers. The federal government recognizes this duty, which is why the Department of Transportation regulates drug testing by industry.
DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the agency that regulates carriers and commercial driver's license holders. The FMCSA established urine testing as the mandatory method of testing in 2000. This year, it issued two major updates:
Larger carriers have advocated the adoption of hair-sample drug tests as an acceptable testing method (in lieu of or in addition to other testing methods). So far, the issue remains in regulatory limbo, as the agency awaits guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Nevertheless, there are several good reasons for carriers to establish a hair-sample testing program now anyway.
Hair samples present a more complete picture. Urine-sample tests provide a snapshot of recent drug use, detecting the presence of drugs used in the previous week to 10 days. Employees who know a urine test is coming up can simply refrain from drug usage for the weeks preceding the screening in order to provide a clean sample. Hair samples provide an extended history, with a window of 90 days. Urine samples can be a good tool to detect recent usage in a post-incident situation, but for random and pre-employment screening, a hair sample provides a more complete picture.
Another reason to consider hair-sample testing is that there are a number of ways a urine test can be compromised. For example, adulterants can be introduced into a sample. These methods of cheating can be minimized by the collection process, but require special sample collection cups that can detect a bad sample.
There is no known way to cheat a hair sample test. The test works even if someone treats their hair with harsh chemicals, washes their hair just before the test, or applies styling products. A hair sample test is virtually cheat-proof.
Alcohol abuse is rising sharply due to the pandemic, as people react to the stress and isolation of this period. Opioid abuse is also up, according to the American Medical Association. As the holiday season approaches, and home delivery skyrockets, drivers will be under even greater stress. These factors make it even more important for fleet owners to prioritize safety, and implement additional safeguards such as a hair-sample testing regimen.
Following are five tips that help to ensure program success:
HHS is expected to issue guidance, recommendations and possibly a mandate on hair-sample testing within the next 18 months. Hair-sample tests are typically more expensive than urine or saliva-sample testing kits, but compared to the price of an accident involving a $70,000 vehicle, investing in a testing regimen that includes hair-sample testing makes good business sense.
Hair-sample testing provides a more complete picture of substance abuse history at a time when abuse is on the rise, and carriers are onboarding new employees. Hair-sample tests are cheat-proof, easy to implement as part of a testing program, and far more affordable than an incident caused by an impaired employee. For all of these reasons, now is a great time to go beyond current requirements and establish a program that includes hair-sample testing.
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