The Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing new rules that include oral fluid testing as an alternative to urine testing for their DOT-regulated drug and alcohol testing. The program, which mandates testing of safety-sensitive transportation employees such as truck drivers, will now provide employers an alternative that will help combat employee cheating on urine drug tests and provide a more practical, less intrusive way to achieve the program’s safety goals.
The proposal also includes provisions that will help update the rules and regulations to comply with the new mandatory guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs Using Oral Fluid (or OFMG) established by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In accordance with the HHS’ new rules, oral fluid testing “provides the same scientific and forensic supportability of drug test results as the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs using Urine,” according to the agency.
The SAP for DOT underlined that it is not requiring employers to utilize oral fluid testing in place of urine testing or for all test-related purposes when it proposes oral fluid testing (e.g., pre-employment, random, etc.). Instead, it suggests giving employers discretion over the specimens they gather. Several advantages will result from this flexibility. For instance, oral fluid testing can be carried out at an accident or event scene if an employer decides that a DOT post-accident test or a reasonable cause/suspicion test is required. Oral fluid collection can be done by any oral fluid collector qualified under Part 40–either an external contractor or a DOT-regulated company employee. Oral fluid collection locations also have fewer restrictions and requirements. The DOT claims that the availability of collectors and the lowered expectations for collection site standards should enable quick, less-expensive collections for a post-accident and reasonable cause/suspicion testing.
The DOT Qualified SAP agency is not advocating the dismal of urine testing. When selecting whether to utilize a urine test or an oral fluid test as the preferred form of testing for any specific test reason, employers should consider the various windows of detection. Marijuana testing has perhaps the most significant variance in the testing window. According to DOT’s analysis of several scientific sources, the testing window for oral fluids is only for up to twenty-four hours. The testing window is anywhere from three to sixty-seven days for urine tests.
The DOT also points out that oral fluid collection has the advantage of being directly observed, in contrast to most urine collections, which are not. Although collecting urine samples under direct observation has long been the best way to stop employees from replacing or adulterating their samples to pass drug tests, doing so is only permitted under specific conditions due to employee privacy concerns. In contrast, the oral fluid collection is significantly less intrusive than directly observed urine collection. According to the DOT, oral-fluid testing has another added benefit: it is typically less expensive than urine testing. The proposal claims an oral fluids test can cost $10 to $20 less than a urine test.
For many years, the DOT and HHS have investigated alternative testing procedures. Oral fluid, hair, and sweat testing were three directly seen alternative testing procedures that HHS requested feedback on in 2004. While oral fluid testing did not meet HHS standards in 2004, DOT explains in its new proposal that science and research studies have now advanced to the point where HHS can conclude that oral fluid testing is a suitable alternative testing method for detecting illicit drug use in the Federal workplace.
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