The National Laboratory Certification Program regulates drug and alcohol testing labs to ensure fairness to employees and effectiveness to employers.
When the U.S. Federal Government set about creating drug-free workplaces and transportation in the 1980s – an aftermath of drug use among U.S. soldiers who used drugs in the Vietnam War – laws were established in such a way to ensure both accuracy and fairness.
Fortunately, the two go hand in hand. With greater accuracy in employee drug testing methodologies, as well as in how tests are administered and results are recorded, a greater degree of fairness is ensured for all concerned. If a tested individual is falsely identified by a drug test as a user, it is hugely unfair to that individual as well as the employer. By the same token, if a drug test fails to identify illegal use of a controlled substance by an employee, it can unfairly harm many others: co-workers, the employer, and the public at large – particularly if the substance using individual is operating vehicles or other safety-sensitive equipment.
Drug testing laboratories must meet federal DHHS standards
Ensuring the best methods and controls are placed on contractors to the Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs (Department of Health and Human Services, or DHHS) is the National Laboratory Certification Program (NLCP). This body certifies drug testing laboratories can receive urine specimens that are then tested to determine the presence of drugs.
Only laboratories that are on the current list – updated monthly – of DHHS certified facilities can participate in drug testing programs. Certification is contingent on compliance with the many requirements of Section 503 of Public Law 100-71, including most notably the following:
- Subpart C, Drug and Specimen Validity Tests– This specifies who may collect urine specimens, the training required of collectors, and information about the designated employee representative that employers need to provide.
- Subpart K “Laboratory”– Specific testing alcohol testing details, which are subject to the time constraints of alcohol testing, include where the tests can take place, the types of devices used to conduct an alcohol screening test, plus the proper use and care for findings.
Revisions to the law regarding testing technologies in particular change from time to time, which triggers updates to what is acceptable and the procedural changes (if any) that result.
Laboratories subject to ongoing, rigorous review
The NLCP not only verifies laboratories that are new, but also reviews their procedures, data, and documentation on an ongoing basis. In a single year, the NLCP challenged more than 4,000 proficiency-testing samples (a quality assurance method) and conducted 80 in-person inspections of already certified labs.
The NLCP standards are specifically geared to government-sector employee testing. But private-sector employers commonly regard those certified laboratories as the gold standard for their programs as well.