While not offering free passes, the United States Department of Transportation has issued new guidelines for motor carriers to deal with mandatory alcohol and drug testing during the Covid-19 (coronavirus-19) outbreak. The Department of Transportation says that the agency wants to provide flexibility while still maintaining the safety of the public during this pandemic. To that end, companies are asked to carry on with their alcohol and drug screening and training whenever possible.
Vital resources may not be readily available during this pandemic. The agency acknowledges that following the law may not be possible in some areas. Still, because of the unavailability of resources like breath alcohol technicians or BATs, collection sites, MROs, and SAPs, the agency recommends the following:
Make reasonable efforts to locate the necessary resources. As the best policy, consider using mobile collection services to help with the required testing if site collection resources are not readily available. However, keep in mind that all screenings must still comply with the agency’s Part 40 Protocols.
Check out this site to know more about DOT Part 40 protocols.
If companies are unable to conduct an agency-required alcohol or drug screenings because of the pandemic – facility closure, shortage of related supplies, quarantines imposed by the government, or other hindrances, they need to comply with Federal Motor Carrier Safety requirements and to document why such tests were not completed. If screening and training can be conducted later (at the next available schedule, random testing in scheduled time, follow-up screening later in the year), do so under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
If companies cannot conduct the Department of Transportation alcohol or drug testing because of the unavailability of screening resources, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations and guidelines continue to apply. For instance, without a negative screening result, companies cannot allow current or prospective employees to perform any Department of Transportation safety-sensitive tasks.
Other guidance from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety
The agency has issued this guidance for drivers specific to certain tests, should the pandemic prevent the testing:
Random – This type of testing needs to be delivered throughout the year, and companies are advised to organize random selections every three months. If businesses experience interruption as a result of the pandemic, and they are unable to complete the required testing, they need to document in writing the reasons why companies were unable to conduct screenings on drivers who were pre-selected randomly, as well as any actions they took to help locate alternative collection sites or other resources. Then, they need to make up the tests before the year ends, to meet the minimal yearly screening requirements.
Post-Accident – People are required to make every attempt to test drivers under agency protocols. If pandemic-related disturbance prevents them from carrying out the screening within eight hours, following the vehicular accident or drug tests within 32 hours, people need to document the reasons.
Reasonable-tests – If people are not able to carry out reasonable-suspicion tests because of the pandemic, people need to document it in writing, which could not be carried out as required by the government. These explanations should include efforts people made to mitigate the pandemic-induced disruption, like trying to locate alternative collection sites.
If investigation occurs, documented circumstances will be issued to enforcement, as well as observations from trained supervisors, leading to the screening request. The need for explanations of why reasonable suspicion tests were not performed is not new.
Return-to-Duty – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety has not offered any exceptions to RTD test requirements. Carriers who are chosen or subjected to a treatment, evaluation, and negative RTD tests following a Department of Transportation violation need to complete the steps (it includes RTD testing) prior to performing the safety-sensitive tasks again.
To find out more about FMCS, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Motor_Carrier_Safety_Administration for more info.
Follow-up – Drivers should make attempts to make a follow up with their screening plan, including efforts to locate facilities. If follow-up tests cannot be completed, the carriers need to document the reason for the missed testing; document their efforts to minimize the disruption; as well as to conduct trials as soon as possible (or practicable).
Remember that drivers that are operating under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety’s current emergency protocol, who are exempted from hours of service and safety regulations while making an emergency response, are not exempted from alcohol and drug checks.
Carriers may have health issues
A lot of employees are concerned about having coronavirus disease-19 or CoViD-19 while at the clinic for a Department of Transportation examination. Employers need to be sensitive to other employees who tell them that they are afraid or not comfortable to get to collection sites or clinics.
If these assessments cannot be done later, the agency suggests that employees contact facilities to verify that it has taken precautionary measures to minimize the risk of coronavirus disease exposure.
Once employees are notified of agency-required assessment and fail to go to the clinic or collection site, it is the company’s responsibility to check the situation of the worker’s refusal to undergo the assessment and find out whether or not their actions are considered as a refusal. Remind everyone about the guide to DOT drug testing and the steps that are deemed a refusal to undergo the test. Refusals, excluding pre-employment examination, include:
- Failing to go to testing sites or clinics when instructed
- Showing up late after ordered to proceed to the site or clinic immediately
- Leaving the site or clinic without giving the necessary sample
- Failing to cooperate with the testing process
- Failing to allow direct observations when applicable
Backup plans for the carrier examination
The Department of Transportation also suggests that companies have an up-to-date plan for screening if resources like sites, clinics, human resources, or testing kits are not available, including:
- Lists of available drug and alcohol collection, examination areas
- Backup and alternate Maintenance, Repair, and Operations (or MROs)
- Regular communication with the service providers regarding their current capabilities and availability
This guide comes from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Alcohol and Drug Policy and Compliance, which is responsible for delivering the examination and assessment for all modes of transportation.