If you are performing tasks on-the-job that are safety-sensitive according to the US Department of Transportation (DOT), such as driving a truck, working on pipelines, operating a train or fixing a plane, then you are subject to a DOT drug test.
What’s a DOT Drug Test?
Generally, if a company is part of the transportation industry – with employees in safety-sensitive positions – said company is required by law to participate in a DOT Drug Testing Program.
What Drugs Are Tested For Under a DOT Test?
Any drug can be detected with the use of a drug test. But DOT alcohol tests are the most popular drug prevention strategy for safety-sensitive employees.
DOT alcohol screening includes any combination of DOT saliva alcohol tests or DOT alcohol breathalyzers with PAS devices. However, DOT confirmation testing must be performed in a laboratory using EBT devices.
Aside from alcohol, DOT drug tests can also be applied to detect any of the following substances:
Who Uses DOT Drug Testing?
A DOT test refers to a drug test procedure required from individuals and private corporations under contract with or under the authority of the Department of Transportation (DOT). Employees who work in highly sensitive positions or unsafe environments falling under DOT jurisdiction must undergo a urine drug test. Job applicants for the same security and safety-sensitive positions are likewise required to undergo pre-employment drug screening.
What Are Safety-Sensitive Positions?
- School bus drivers
- Truck drivers
- Subway operators
- Train engineers
- Aircraft maintenance crew
- Armed transit security personnel
- Pipeline emergency response crew
- Ship captains
Employers must read and understand industry-specific regulations as published in the DOT website.1 The Designated Employer Representative (DER) plays a key role in understanding all these regulations, and ensures the employer company’s compliance with the DOT Drug and Alcohol Testing Program.
The DOT covers several government agencies associated with U.S. transportation, including the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the United States Coast Guard, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Transit Administration. The Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance is also under the DOT and is responsible for implementing the drug and alcohol testing program of the U.S. government.
Federal Aviation Administration Drug Testing
- Air traffic controllers at non-FAA facilities
- Air traffic controllers contracted by the U.S. military
- Aircraft maintenance personnel
- Aviation screeners
- Flight attendants
- Flight crews
- Flight instructors
- Ground security personnel
Commercial Motor Carriers Drug Screening
- Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) holders who operate commercial motor vehicles with gross vehicle weight rating (gvwr) of 26,001 lbs. or greater.
- Drivers of vehicles that carry 16 or more passengers
- Drivers who transport hazardous materials
United States Coast Guard – Maritime Drug Testing
- Crew members operating a commercial vessel
Pipeline Employees Drug Testing
- Emergency response personnel
- Operations and maintenance personnel
Federal Railroad Association Drug Screens
- Engine and train personnel
- Hours of Service Act personnel
- Train dispatchers
Federal Transit Association Drug Testing
- Armed security
- Vehicle operators
It is the tasks performed that qualify an individual as a safety-sensitive employee, not the job title. Some employees, like supervisors and managers, may not be currently performing said tasks but are still qualified for the same. They may have to be drug tested as well because at any time (during emergencies), they may be called upon to perform a safety-sensitive job.
While the DOT does not issue certifications to service providers doing DOT tests, all DOT tests must comply with Title 49 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) Part 40, which stipulates the procedural requirements in the manner by which workplace drug and alcohol testing is to be conducted in transportation industries under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Testing facilities that wish to participate in a DOT drug and alcohol testing program must qualify in the National Laboratory Certification Program conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services.
DOT Alcohol Testing Information
Before ordering a DOT alcohol test, it’s crucial to first understand the industry-specific regulations as published on the DOT website.
Alcohol Testing Personnel (Subpart J)
DOT alcohol tests can only be conducted by screening test technicians (STT) and breath alcohol technicians (BAT). They are trained professionals who conduct alcohol screening tests (STT or BAT) and confirmation tests (BAT only). They are the ones responsible for transmitting the test results to the employers, all the while observing timeliness and confidentiality.2
Note: If you are the immediate supervisor of an employee, you may not act as the STT and/or BAT of that employee when he/she is tested even if you are BAT or STT-qualified, except when no other BAT or STT is available and if you are not prohibited by DOT agency regulations. Also, if the employee being tested for alcohol is also being tested for drugs, the BAT must ensure that the alcohol screening and confirmation are completed first before the employee submits any samples for the drug test.
Testing Sites, Forms, Equipment, Supplies Used in Alcohol Testing (Subpart K)
- Site – This subpart lists the requirements for a designated DOT alcohol testing site, including security; visual and aural privacy for the test subject; availability of authorized personnel, equipment, materials and facilities needed for the collection and analysis of breath samples.
- Forms – The SST documents or records the screening test results in an Alcohol Testing Form (ATF). If the screening test result is 0.02 or higher, a second test is conducted using an EBT and the results are again documented on the same DOT ATF. The ATF is a 3-part carbonless manifold form and must be used for every DOT alcohol test.
- Equipment – DOT screening tests for alcohol are conducted using approved-screening devices (ASD), and confirmation tests must use EBTs (Evidential Breath Testing Devices) which only analyze breath.
The concentration of alcohol in a person’s breath is related to the concentration of alcohol in his blood. An EBT is a device capable of calculating the level of alcohol in a person’s system through his breath. Basically, an EBT is breathalyzer approved for DOT testing. Results from an EBT are generally accepted in court as legal proof.3
Confirmation tests can only be performed using EBTs that are able to do the following:
- Provide 3 copies of each breath test result
- Perform external calibration test
- Assign each completed breath test its own unique number
- Print device name, serial # and time stamp for each test
- Test an air blank
- Distinguish alcohol (at 0.02 concentration level) from acetone
In the CPL (conforming products list) published by the NHTSA, only EBT devices without an asterisk (*) are authorized to be used for conducting alcohol confirmatory tests as described under 49 CFR Part 40 Subpart M.
Alcohol Screening Tests (Subpart L)
This section provides the detailed procedures that the BAT or STT must follow when conducting a DOT alcohol screening. They would be using an EBT, a non-evidential breath ASD or a breath tube ASD. These procedures include what steps to take depending on whether the device is or isn’t capable of printing, etc. They even instruct the BAT or STT what to do in case anything goes wrong with the initial test, like if the device breaks apart or if the employee did not follow the instructions well, etc.
The following procedures are to be followed by the STT when conducting the alcohol screening test using the saliva ASD:
- Check the device expiration date and show it to the employee. Do not use an expired device.
- Open the device package in front of the employee.
- Instruct the employee on how to insert the device into his mouth properly to ensure that he uses it in accordance with manufacturer specifications.
- If an employee chooses not to use the device or if a new test becomes necessary because the device did not activate, the STT must insert the device in the employee’s mouth and collect saliva according to manufacturer instructions. STT must wear single-use gloves while doing the test.
- Follow manufacturer instructions to ensure the device is activated.
- If for any reason something goes wrong like if the device breaks or is dropped on the floor, the STT must discard this device. Conduct a new test with a fresh device.
- The replacement device must have been under the STT’s or the employee’s control before the test.
- Document all of these on the “Remarks” line of the ATF.
- For this new test, the STT may offer the employee the choice on whether to use the new device himself unless the employee was actually the one responsible for needing the new test (if the employee was the one who dropped the first device).
- If for some reason the STT fails to complete this new test, the collection must be stopped and the whole thing must be documented in the ATF.
- The STT must direct the employee to immediately take a new test, but this time using an EBT for screening.
- In case the collection portion of the test was successful but the device does not activate, the device must be discarded and a new device must be used in its place. The STT will be the one to put the device in the employee’s mouth for saliva collection.
- The results will be displayed on the device and must be read within 15 minutes of the test. Show the results to the employee and record it on the ATF.
- Never reuse devices, gloves, swabs and all other materials used in saliva testing.
- Indicate in Step 3 of the ATF that a saliva ASD was used.
Alcohol Confirmation Tests (Subpart M)
The procedures in this section are specifically for the BAT to follow. It defines a minimum 15-minute waiting period (but not to exceed 30 minutes) from the time the screening test is completed until the beginning of the confirmation test. During the waiting period, the employee must be observed by the BAT conducting the test, another BAT, the STT or a representative from the employer and given further instructions. Aside from the actual instructions to the BAT on how to complete the confirmation test with the EBT, this section also instructs the BAT what to do if the 30-minute waiting period is exceeded, if the employee refuses to sign the certification on the ATF etc.
All the details about the regulations covering the STTs, BATs and the actual test collection process for alcohol are found in 49 CFR Part 40 Subparts J to M.
Problems in Alcohol Testing (Subpart N)
This section contains many questions and answers all relating to various problems that may be encountered when conducting an alcohol test, like what constitutes a refusal to take an alcohol test, when an employee leaves the testing site before the testing process is complete, failure to provide sufficient breath specimen etc.
In cases when the employee is unable to provide sufficient saliva sample, the STT must follow the following procedures:
- Use a new screening device to conduct a new screening test.
- If the employee refuses to do a new screening test, document this on the “Remarks” line of the ATF and notify the DER immediately. This constitutes a refusal to test.
- If the employee still is unable to provide sufficient saliva sample for this new screening test, document this on the “Remarks” line of the ATF and notify the DER immediately.
- The DER, upon being informed by the STT that the employee was unable to provide sufficient saliva sample, must arrange to administer a breath alcohol test via EBT or other breath testing device immediately.
All the information provided above provide just a tiny glimpse of all the actual information that employers have to make sense of when conducting breath alcohol testing under a DOT Drug Testing Program. The key role in all of these is the Designated Employer Representative (DER). The DER ensures the employer company’s compliance with the DOT Drug and Alcohol Testing Program.
When Are DOT Drug Tests Performed?
Employers of safety-sensitive workplaces can issue drug or alcohol testing in the following situations:
- Pre-employment drug screenings
- Reasonable suspicion drug testing
- Random drug testing
- Post-accident drug testing
- Return-to-duty drug screens
- Follow-up drug screening
How is a DOT Drug Test Different From Non-DOT Drug Test?
DOT drug testing is done at laboratories certified by the Department of Health and Human Services which publishes a list of certified laboratories monthly. Non-DOT drug testing, on the other hand, are done at laboratories that are certified by either of the 2 accredited agencies, CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) and CAP (College of American Pathologists). It would be prudent for employers to verify a lab’s certification first before having them perform drug and alcohol testing on their employees. If a company needs non-DOT testing but uses a DOT-certified lab and drug test results are challenged in court, there may be legal complications.