DOT Wants the Hair Test So What’s the Hold-Up_

Congress passed the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act in 1991 after two serious accidents occurred within a relatively short span of time involving public transportation. The causes were both linked to drug use by the employees highlighting a need for drug testing in the safety-sensitive workforce. People should rightly expect to use public transportation or travel with their families on the highways of the United States safely. They shouldn’t have to wonder if professional drivers, pilots, engineers, or the captain of their cruise ship are high.

Employers of the general workforce were encouraged to begin drug testing for safety’s sake as well. Taking part in state affiliated drug-free workplace programs benefited employers because many states offered them lower workers’ compensation premiums for operating a drug-free workplace. Moreover, once word gets out that your company drug tests, most people who use drugs aren’t even going to bother to apply.

Still, over the years, drug users have come up with increasingly sophisticated ways to “cheat” the test. Why worry about popping positive on a random if there’s a way to get a false negative result just by ordering a “detox” drink online? That’s just one of the types of products available that supposedly do the trick. There are scads of “tried and true” home remedies to be found online as well. Drug testing technology is constantly evolving though and, although, some drug users do fly under the radar, the majority of those who try and falsify a drug test get caught.

Time for a change

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has been pursuing a change in drug testing methods since 2017. The decision came about after six major trucking companies, J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., Schneider National Carriers, Inc., Werner Enterprises, Inc., Knight Transportation, Inc., Dupre Logistics, Inc, and Maveric Transportation, LLC, petitioned FMCSA demanding the right to use the hair test for employee drug testing—at least for pre-employment drug testing. The hair test enables employers to look for consistent drug use. Moreover, the results look back at a  90-day period verses—with the exception of marijuana—the urine test results which only goes back a few weeks at most depending on the drug.

Years later, we’re still waiting for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to make its decision. The official request is hung up in the chain-of-command. Ultimately, it’s expected to pass, but the theory that hair tests may show false positives due to Disparate Impact has the request held in limbo.

The argument is that Disparate Impact can affect hair testing in many ways that revolve around the color and texture of a person’s hair. It all has to do with a pigment called melanin. Melanin determines the color of hair, skin, and eye color. The problem is, the pigment is apparently also attracted to drugs. The theory goes that hair of a rough texture will absorb drug metabolites more readily. If that’s true, than people with this hair type are at a disadvantage over those who have a smooth hair texture.

Does it really matter?

Ultimately, though, if an employer is looking for drugs and the hair test shows a positive result, does it matter the level at which the drug shows up? A growing number of employers in the trucking industry are voicing they believe that answer is no. Moreover, there are those within the SAMHSA chain-of-command who stand with them and refuse to stop asking that question.

Waiting until after an accident occurs isn’t the time to discover that an employee is using drugs. When someone is using drugs at work—or is still under the effect from earlier use—they’re at an increased risk of causing an accident. When their occupation has them on the highways, anyone traveling along the same route is at risk of being involved in a serious, often catastrophic, accident too.

That’s a risk a growing number of companies in the trucking industry aren’t willing to take.

Incurring added expense for safety’s sake

Some trucking companies, such as Schneider National, Inc., for instance began using the hair test in addition to the DOT mandated urine test as far back as 2014. Incurring the added expense to obtain 90-day results is one that more and more trucking companies are taking on. And it’s paying off. Employers report that when some applicants learn the company requires a hair sample, they abruptly end the interview.

That speaks volumes.

Professional drivers should never risk the lives of others under any circumstances. The hair test is a method they dread. That means that if it became the mandated method of pre-employment drug testing, at least, the number of drivers who would be removed from service immediately is something to think about. Seriously. The number could be larger than any of us would want to imagine.

After pondering these facts, should you decide that SAMHSA needs to push through the red tape issues and stand for increasing the safety of America’s roadways, make your voice heard! We, the people, can stand along side the trucking industry demanding that SAMHSA approves making the change from the urine test and instead uses hair to test potential drivers for drug use. Numbers don’t lie. Not when reading the result of a hair test nor when the population stands together as one. Making our voices heard is the best way to institute change.

Let’s help the truckers make our highways safer for our families. Contact SAMHSA and FMCSA. Let them know where you stand. It’s been five years. It’s time for the rubber to hit the road.


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