It’s been five years since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) submitted its request to change the federally mandated drug test from urine to the hair test. It was initiated when six major trucking companies, J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., Schneider National Carriers, Inc., Knight Transportation, Inc., Dupre Logistics, Inc., Werner Enterprises, Inc., and Maveric Transportation, LLC, petitioned the FMCSA requesting that the administration replace the urine drug test with the hair test.
The reasoning stated within the petition cited the fact that the test is very beneficial for pre-employment testing. It affords employers a 90-day detection period. This versus the urine drug test which only shows positive results for a few days or weeks depending on the specific drug. The exception to the rule is mariuana as heavy smokers can test positive for up to three months or more depending on the individual.
The request for change was thought to be well received. Many expected the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) approval to come quickly. That wasn’t the case though because the request was submitted in 2017. And, we’re still awaiting the result.
Apparently, it has to do with possible discrimination. Disparate Impact can affect hair testing in many ways that revolve around the color and texture of hair. A pigment, Melanin, determines the color of hair, skin, and eye color. However, it’s apparently attracted to drugs too. Some say that people with rough hair texture may be at a disadvantage over someone with smooth hair texture. That’s because studies show that rough textured hair may absorb more drugs than smooth textured hair does.
Of course, there are studies that lean in the other direction as well. They conclude there is relatively no difference in the number of drug metabolites absorbed into the hair no matter the texture.
When an employee fails a drug test, pinpointing the level of drugs in their system at the time of the test isn’t really the overall issue. Sure, there are set levels for testing, but if an employer is looking for recent drug use, the fact that drugs are found at all is the important thing.
Arguing whether or not certain hair textures absorb more drug metabolites isn’t really relevant.
A growing number of companies in the trucking industry are speaking out to agree with that line of thinking. Moreover, some individuals within the SAMHSA chain of command are standing with them. That’s because when drivers use drugs, the risk of them being involved in an accident increases.
Drug use affects thinking skills and slows down reaction times. Depending on the drug taken, a driver may actually doze off behind the wheel! Anyone traveling on the roads along the same route is increasing their risk of being involved in an accident too. Sadly, though, they won’t have any idea of that fact until they literally have seconds to respond should the situation present itself.
Discovering that an employee uses drugs after an accident has occurred isn’t the avenue any employer wants to take. Ever.
One of the major companies in the trucking industry, J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., began testing job applicants for drugs using both the hair test and the federally mandated urine test back in 2006. Schneider National, Inc., jumped on the bandwagon in 2014. There are others and the number of companies within the industry who are adding the hair test to their drug testing policies and procedures continues to grow.
The fact that employers are incurring the expense of a hair test—currently the most expensive of the three preferred employee drug testing methods—of their own accord in an attempt to weed out drivers who abuse drugs is a noble undertaking. It’s making a difference too. It’s said that when potential new hires learn that they must submit to a hair test, as well as the urine drug test, they end the interview immediately and head for the door.
Someone who drives professionally should never consider getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs—some people do, however. They dread the hair test because it gives employers a 90-day look at past drug use. If drivers are avoiding the test but weren’t batting an eye at taking the urine drug test they may have found a way to cheat. They apparently just head on down the road and go to work for a company that doesn’t use the hair test—yet.
SAMHSA needs to push through the red tape and stand up for making the roadways as safe as possible. They need to approve the hair follicle drug test so that the DOT can do the same. Once it’s left up to the FMCSA, you can be certain the change will be put through as quickly as possible.
The argument as to whether or not the hair test puts some people at a disadvantage due to the type of hair they have isn’t of the utmost importance here. Employers are looking for any drug use. If someone uses drugs, the hair test is going to create a permanent record of that fact.
The level at which the drug was absorbed into the hair is irrelevant. The fact that some drivers use drugs and then get behind the wheel of a big rig puts the general public at risk. Even if they aren’t impaired by the drug itself, many illicit drugs cause someone to stay up for hours on end. Recent use could lead to them being sleep deprived—another serious risk maker when driving professionally.
If you believe that allowing the DOT to mandate hair testing, at least for pre-employment testing, is important, then, speak out. Contact SAMHSA and the DOT. Tell them that you stand with the trucking industry and believe hair testing is a more comprehensive testing method. They’ve had plenty of time to mull it over. It’s time to get the show on the road.