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Requirements for drug-free working

Safety & Codes | June 1, 2008 | By:

Your requirements under U.S. drug and alcohol regulations.

Despite today’s glamorization of drug culture, the use of drugs or alcohol at work can pose serious safety risks, especially in the tent rental industry. Employers may be reluctant to deal with employees’ potential drug and alcohol use in the workplace. But are U.S. employers required under OSHA regulations to enforce a drug and alcohol-free workplace? No—at least most employers aren’t. However, OSHA does strongly recommend that employers have drug-free policies in place, and any employed drivers of yours will have to remain drug-free under U.S. Department of Transport (DOT) regulations.

“We are bound by Title 8 regulations,” says Dan Leiner, area manager for Cal/OSHA Consultation Services in Van Nuys, Calif. “What’s in there is what we can enforce.” And, Leiner says, requirements for a drug-free workplace are not covered by the regulations. This means that OSHA cannot issue citations for any drug or alcohol-related problems, because they wouldn’t classify as a violation of the state’s Title 8.

Rules do differ between states, but the majority of states choose to mirror the federal OSHA regulations, which do not stipulate that employers provide a drug or alcohol-free workplace. “State regulations have to be equal to or more stringent than the federal regulations,” Leiner says.

The only exception to this rulethat applies to the tent industry, according to information from George Chartier in the OSHA Com-munications office, is a standard adopted by the state of Washington. This standard (WAC 296-800-11025) requires that all employers prohibit alcohol and narcotics from the workplace, and it also requires them to prohibit employees under the influence of alcohol or narcotics from the work site.

So, in all states except Washington, OSHA could not order drug tests during an inspection on your work site, because any violation would not be covered by the enforcement powers of OSHA. But certainly drug-free working is safer working, and OSHA strongly supports this premise. “We encourage employers to have a drug-free workplace,” Leiner says. “That should be part of their policies and procedures.”

Although not required by OSHA, drug-free workplaces are certainly a necessity in today’s culture. Statistics from the Department of Labor indicate that 10.2 million or 76 percent of illicit drug users worked full or part time in 2001. In addition, between 10 and 20 percent of U.S. workers who die on the job test positive for alcohol or other drugs.

OSHA recommends implementing a drug-free workplace program that includes a solid policy, supervisor training, employee education, employee assistance and drug testing. Effective drug free workplace policies generally should include details of why the policy is being implemented, a clear description of prohibited behaviors and an explanation of consequences for violating the policy. If you’re planning to implement drug testing, Leiner notes that any drug testing policies should be drawn up with the help of an attorney, to ensure that employees’ rights are duly protected.

For those who have drivers on their payroll, drug testing is not an option: it’s a legal obligation. Although OSHA doesn’t issue citations for working under the influence, the DOT has no problems doing so. Under the 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 40 and 382, employees who hold commercial drivers’ licenses and operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in any state are prohibited from using drugs or alcohol while performing their “safety-sensitive” duties (i.e. driving). According to the DOT Web site, vehicles covered by the regulation are considered CMVs if they have a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 26,001 lbs or more.

The regulations state that drivers should not report for duty with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.04 or higher, and that drivers should not perform safety-sensitive functions within four hours of using alcohol. Employers are required under the law to conduct random tests for alcohol 10 percent of the time, and 50 percent of the time for controlled substances. These are the minimal requirements; you can test more often if you’d like.

The regulations also stipulate the use of post-accident testing for alcohol or drugs, and they state that employers must provide educational materials to their drivers before conducting any tests.

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