WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has revised its drug- and-alcohol testing rules, a change designed to make the testing process easier to carry out and to provide additio...
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has revised its drug- and-alcohol testing rules, a change designed to make the testing process easier to carry out and to provide additional safeguards for employees.
The rule amends the department’s regulations, first issued in 1988, to require drug testing of employees in safety-sensitive positions in the aviation, motor carrier, rail, transit, maritime and pipeline industries.
Alcohol testing was added to the requirements in 1994.
Some of the changes from current requirements include a review of test results by a medical-review officer-who must be a physician-when a laboratory indicates that an employee’s specimen may have been adulterated or substituted. As well, any employee will be able to obtain, at a different certified laboratory, a test of their split specimen (so called because specimens are split into two separate containers to allow for retesting) to make sure that the original laboratory did not make an error.
Because of the potentially significant impact on the employee following an adulterated or substituted specimen result report, the requirements for physician review and access to testing of the split sample will be implemented 30 days after publication of this rule. This is consistent with the procedures currently used for drugs of abuse.
Another change is testing for validity. Validity testing is designed to deter and detect attempts to adulterate or substitute specimens, and will continue to be voluntary on the part of the employer utilizing current procedures. When the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which regulates drug-testing laboratories, finalizes its mandatory procedures for validity testing, the DOT will publish a notice in the Federal Register making validity testing mandatory in the transportation industry. This process hopes to ensure greater uniformity and consistency of testing in all laboratories.
Another change offers employers the choice of applying for a waiver allowing them to temporarily remove employees from performing safety-related tasks while a medical review officer is deciding whether there may be a legitimate medical explanation for a positive result from a laboratory.
The rules governing the waiver include measures to protect employee confidentiality and to allow an employee to be paid during this period.
The majority of the new rules go into effect Aug. 1.
A few provisions, such as the inclusion of medical-officer review of suspected adulterated or substituted specimens; the split-specimen review procedures for validity testing; and the public interest-exclusions provision, will go into effect 30 days after the rule is published.
Contract-service providers will be authorized, to a greater extent than previously, to transmit information such as drug test results to employers.
There is also a new public-interest exclusion provision in the rule, which allows the DOT to protect the public from the actions of service providers – this applies to firms that violate the department’s rules. This provision includes significant due-process protections to ensure that the process is fair.
There are also enhanced-training requirements for drug and alcohol testing personnel: the requirements refine procedures for collectors and breath-alcohol technicians to increase their effectiveness to ensure accurate tests, and that all medical review officers have current technical and regulatory information and training. The changes also aim to ensure substance-abuse professionals across the U.S. are consistent in their evaluation and assessment of employees who tested positive in the first round of testing for drugs or alcohol. n
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