Long-awaited guidelines on using hair tests to detect drugs in the workplace have been sent to the White House but a federal requirement for truck drivers will likely take years, according to a trucking policy expert.
“Scientific and technical guidelines for the inclusion of hair specimens” to detect illegal drugs, along with standards for certifying laboratories in federal agency drug testing, was sent by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), an agency within the executive branch, on June 11.
Because the guidelines are more than two years overdue – Congress had directed the guidelines be issued in December 2016 – their arrival at OMB is significant.
“This has been a long time in coming, and it represents seriousness on the part of HHS to move these forward,” David Osiecki, President and CEO of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, told FreightWaves. “But it’s just a step, not the final rule.”
Osiecki pointed out that once the OMB approval process is completed – which itself could take 90 days or more – two federal agencies would have to go through a rulemaking process before hair testing for drugs is required for commercial drivers: one from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance (ODAPC), and one from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
ODAPC advises the DOT secretary and publishes regulations on drug and alcohol testing among the federally regulated transportation modes. Each modal agency then must adopt testing procedures based on those regulations, Osiecki explained.
“So we’re actually years away from hair testing in the commercial trucking sector due to the steps that still have to be taken,” he said.
That’s either good or bad, depending on where you sit. At a Congressional hearing on June 12, American Trucking Associations (ATA) President and CEO Chris Spear testified that hair tests for drug use are more difficult to subvert.
“However, since urine is the only sample type permitted under DOT regulations, companies that voluntarily conduct hair tests must do so in addition to mandatory urine tests. This duplicated time and expense deters fleets from adopting this more effective testing method,” Spear said.
The ATA’s support for mandatory hair testing was bolstered by drug-test survey data released by the Trucking Alliance that found over 300,000 drivers currently on the road would fail or refuse a hair analysis.
Small business truckers represented by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), however, have so far opposed requiring hair testing in federal drug and alcohol test procedures.
“We have concerns about hair testing, such as biases toward hair color and texture, and the lack of any evidence of a connection between hair testing and crash reduction,” OOIDA told FreightWaves in a statement.