In Ready For Takeoff Podcast Episode 175 we discussed airline drug testing, and now we're going to learn about WHY airline employees are tested for drugs.
An airline accident in 1988 was a major factor in requiring drug testing for pilots. Trans Colorado Airlines flight 2286 crashed during an approach to Durango, Colorado, and investigators learned that the captain had ingested cocaine prior to the flight. In the accident report the Safety Board stated "The NTSB believes that reasonable cause testing (triggered by any of a wide range of potentially safety-related errors), combined with effective management supervision of employees, post-accident/incident testing, pre-employment testing, periodic (medical) testing, and competent drug/alcohol education and treatment, are essential components of an effective anti-drug/alcohol abuse program."
From Test Country:
When President Ronald Reagan signed an Executive Order requiring federal agencies to create an employee drug testing program, the Department of Transportation (DOT) responded by developing a comprehensive program and cascading it down to all DOT administrations, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to cover pilots and air traffic controllers. Today, drug screening is done for most occupations related to the transport and aviation industry from mechanics to baggage handlers.
Extensive studies indicate that drug use is actually uncommon among pilots, but because of the high level of performance needed for flight, drug use in aviation is closely monitored.
On top of the FAA regulations, most airlines implement their own drug abuse policies. Under these policies, employees with substance abuse violations are removed from safety-sensitive operations and given the choice to go on a treatment program after which they are allowed back to full duty. A second violation will result in disciplinary action or termination.
Background Screening & Drug Testing in Aviation and Airline Companies
Under Section 120 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, employers shall conduct drug testing in accordance with the DOT’s “Procedures for Transportation Workplace Drug Testing Programs” as follows:
Pre-employment Drug Testing
No employer may hire any person for a safety-sensitive function or transfer any person from a non-safety sensitive function to a safety-sensitive function without having first conducted a pre-employment drug test and have received a negative result for the same. This rule applies to transfers if more than 180 days have elapsed from the time of the original hiring/pre-employment drug test.
The substances to be tested for are:
A DOT 10 Panel Drug Test can be conducted in a laboratory setting ensuring all qualifications are met under The Department of Transportation. Corporate laboratory drug testing is best used while screening candidates for employment. After employment, however, instant drug test kits can be useful tools.
Random drug testing
This test shall be done on 50% of covered employees selected at random and without warning.
Post-accident/post-incident drug testing
This test is to be done on an employee whose performance contributed to an accident, no later than 32 hours after the accident
Reasonable-cause drug testing
If it is reasonably suspected that an employee in a security and safety-sensitive function used a prohibited substance as demonstrated by physical, behavioral and performance indicators.
Return to duty drug testing
This test is given to an employee after previously testing positive or refusing to submit to testing (and was therefore removed from work) before being allowed back to work.
Follow-up drug testing
This test is for employees who have previously passed a return-to-duty test. Most DOT programs require 6 follow-up tests the first year from returning to duty, to continue for up to 5 years.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Rules
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a drug and alcohol testing program to make sure that the company provides a safe and healthy environment for both employees and those they serve. The administration follows The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) drug and alcohol testing policy. Both agencies work together to define and implement the coverage of the substance abuse program.
Here are some of the most common questions and answers about DOT’s drug and alcohol testing rules for FAA:
Who are covered by the DOT – FAA drug and alcohol testing rules?
According to DOT, all employees who perform safety-sensitive functions are subject to employee drug testing. These are:
When are covered employees tested?
As per DOT, covered employees are tested during pre-employment and during random testing. Employees are also subject to testing during circumstances like post-accident, reasonable suspicion, return-to-duty, and follow-up testing.
What are drug and alcohol prohibitions as per DOT testing rules?
DOT drug testing rules require FAA employers to test their employees for the following drugs: Marijuana, Opiates, PCP, Cocaine, and Amphetamines.
For DOT Alcohol Testing, the prohibited alcohol concentration for FAA employees is 0.04% or greater. Instant tests can monitor the Breath Alcohol Concentration of drivers, immediately. Employees who are caught violating these prohibitions must be immediately removed from performing safety-sensitive functions until management decides on their applicable consequences.
Who performs the drug and alcohol testing procedures?
For drug testing, a DOT urinalysis procedure must be followed. Only certified collectors are allowed to perform the collection of urine samples from employees. They are trained to perform the testing procedure that meets DOT’s drug testing requirements, making sure that all samples reach the laboratory without signs of tampering.
For DOT alcohol screening, only a screening test technician (STT) and breath alcohol technician (BAT) are allowed to perform the alcohol test. DOT Alcohol Testing requires 2 tests: a screening and confirmation test. STTs are only allowed to perform screening tests, while BATs are allowed to perform both tests. They are trained to guarantee accurate test results.
FAA Random Drug Testing Requirements for Pilots
Like most drivers who drive vehicles that require special education and certification, pilots too are subject to the regulations of the DOT Alcohol Testing and Drug Testing Policy. These regulations are designed to maintain the safety of all passengers and aircraft crew who depend on their pilot to be able to transport them from one location to another without incident.
This means that the pilot must be able to be on guard at all times for the varying situations that could occur during the course of taking off, flying and landing the airplane under their control. A pilot more than any other major transportation operator needs to have a clear mind and an ability to focus to maintain the safety and well-being of those he transports. These abilities are delayed, limited or severely impaired by the abuse of illegal substances.
The FAA random drug testing program (like other DOT-regulated substance abuse programs) also offers those with substance abuse problems opportunities to report their addiction to a counselor so that they may pursue treatment without facing censure from their employer.
Education about substance abuse and prevention is also an integral part of the drug testing process as they help employees to better understand the role that drugs take on in their lives. If these pilots feel that they work in an environment that is willing to help them succeed and remove the negative effects of substance abuse from their work and public lives they’ll be much more invested in maintaining the requirements.