Hair today, safer tomorrow

May 11, 2015
Hair testing for drugs is an approach more carriers are taking

It just occurred to me as I begin writing this month’s column that I have never really addressed the issue of hair testing for drugs in our fleets across the country. Sure, carriers are traveling down the road of alternative compliance and I have even written about that, but nothing relating specifically to hair testing.

So,  it’s already mid-2015 and we’re talking about another instance of how our industry is leading by example by being proactive and putting its best drug-testing foot forward.  On the heels of the Drug Free Commercial Driver Act of 2015, a bipartisan bill in both the House and Senate that recognizes hair testing as an alternative option to urine-based testing in pre-employment testing and random testing procedures for fleets, many carriers on our highways are already putting this in place. The reason for doing so is not because this is a requirement, but because it emphasizes our industry’s zero tolerance policy for drugs in the workplace.

For years, urine-based drug testing has been the only standard for drug testing. And it will continue to be that standard until the regulations change and allow for more than just urine to justify a carrier’s federal drug-testing obligations.  However, carriers, and now our congressional leaders, not to mention FMCSA, are recognizing that hair testing has a place in the transportation industry.  Many carriers are putting this procedure in place for their pre-employment and random testing protocols because the test shows a lengthier history of drug use rather than just recent use.  This fact alone makes hair testing for drugs a better test for new hires. It allows motor carriers an opportunity to foresee what kind of drivers they are hiring.

The industry standard of testing 1.5 in. of head hair provides about a 90-day history of drug use (if the drug is in their system).  Many carriers that partake in this testing are not shy about publicizing the success of their programs either, lauding the fact that many more offenders are identified with this test than that of traditional urine tests. 

It should come as no surprise that TCA supports hair testing for illegal drugs with its policy on Alternative Specimens.  Our membership, much like its arguments against CSA, insists on always having the most accurate picture when it comes to telling a story.  After all, if our industry holds true to its zero tolerance message, especially for those operating a commercial motor vehicle, we must also support and allow for a test that can be used to properly ascertain substance abuse among prospective drivers.

As a regulated industry that adheres to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services’  Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs, our only choice is to support recent legislation that would allow for the testing of hair to identify drugs and even permit those results to one day be placed in a clearinghouse that will make this industry even more transparent than it is today.

David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn.  He is responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to [email protected].

About the Author

David Heller

David Heller is the senior vice president of safety and government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association. Heller has worked for TCA since 2005, initially as director of safety, and most recently as the VP of government affairs. Before that, he spent seven years as manager of safety programs for American Trucking Associations.

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