Almost anyone working in transport – by land, sea, air, railroad, even pipelines – is responsible for public safety and they need to be substance free.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) implements the Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991, which essentially requires all workers engaged in safety-sensitive positions to be subject to alcohol and drug testing.
This is a broad-reaching bill that encompasses operators of motor vehicles (trucks and buses), ships, aircraft, railways, public transportation, and pipelines. Importantly, this includes regular operators in each of these industries (e.g., holders of commercial driver’s licenses in surface transportation vehicles), as well as those people who are technically on reserve or who operate equipment only occasionally. Small employers and self-employed individuals are not exempt, and the law applies to for-profit, non-profit and government employees (e.g., school bus drivers). Job titles are irrelevant: even volunteers are subject to testing if the vehicle could cause harm to occupants and other vehicles on the road. That is to say the volunteer van driver for your church is just as subject to testing as is the airline pilot, long-haul trucker, and ship captain.
While the basic rules for testing are the same between agencies, including how testing needs to be randomly administered, each individual mode of transport has its specific rules for drug testing employees through its respective operating administrations. Those offices are
- Vehicular operations, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
- Maritime, United States Coast Guard (USCG)
- Public Transit, Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
- Railway operators, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)
- Aircraft pilots, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
- Pipeline operators and hazardous materials shippers by any means of transport, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)
How random testing is administered
Because the application of randomized drug and alcohol testing is so broad, the administration of it is codified. This includes the following basic requirements:
Information on how the program works: This is a pragmatic matter, such that when an employee is called in for testing they understand it is standard operating procedure and no cause for alarm. But in real terms, it puts all employees on notice that working under the influence of drugs or alcohol is not permitted and could be grounds for termination or at least reprimand and mandatory counseling.
Similar communications is a requisite part of pre-employment communications. While standard across the industry, all notifications should include mention of the substance use testing.
Reason for testing: “Reasonable suspicion” means that any indication of potential substance use – slurred speech, erratic behavior, poor productivity, or an accident – can trigger a drug test. In safety-sensitive positions, this is required.
Randomized testing: A computer-generated system can select employees without bias for that-day drug testing. This ensures that all employees have an equal chance for being tested. The randomization also allows any individual to be tested several times, again without bias, such that passing a test is no license to use illegal substances once a first test is passed.
Smart employers will communicate this as a benefit – safety affects everyone – and pair it with employee assistance programs to help an individual achieve sobriety and still hold on to their jobs.