Last updated: November 27, 2023
Post-accident drug testing plays an important role in maintaining a safe workplace today. This is because it discourages employees from using drugs due to the risk of being caught following a workplace accident. Unsurprisingly, a workplace accident is one of the most common reasons for conducting a drug test, and many companies—even those that do not normally conduct random drug testing—do conduct post-accident drug testing. In fact, it’s a required part of DOT drug testing programs.
It’s important to know what to expect, and the rights of you as the employer as well as your employees.
First, the basics—what is the definition of a workplace accident? The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) defines an accident that requires drug testing as one that includes any of the following:
- Any accident that results in a fatality.
- One or more employees require medical attention away from the scene, such as being transported to a hospital. In addition, the accident results in the employee receiving a citation for a moving violation.
- One or more vehicles are disabled as the result of the accident, which also results in the employee being cited for a moving violation.
These are effective standards, but some employers choose to adopt a more rigid set, which may include any accident, even when no injuries are involved. This might mean crashing a forklift, knocking over a pallet, or spilling a large container of chemicals.
A USAMDT collection specialist or a specially-trained company representative, either of which should be designated ahead of time, should go to the scene to determine if it meets any criteria that requires post-accident drug testing. If so, the representative should then inform the employee that drug testing will occur. It’s important to note that if you suspect an employee to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it’s imperative that you not send them to a lab because they could endanger themselves and others. In this case, a supervisor will need to either drive them there, or have a mobile collection specialist come to the scene.
This should take place as soon as is practical, but medical care, if needed, should never be delayed.
Drug testing policy
You must establish a formal drug testing policy, communicate to your employees exactly how it works, and follow that policy to the letter in all cases.
The DOT requires, for employers under their jurisdiction, alcohol testing within eight hours of the incident, and drug testing within 32 hours. If testing has not occurred by then, you must immediately stop trying to administer it.
Urinalysis is the most common method of post-accident drug testing, and is currently the only method permitted under DOT drug testing guidelines, but employers not bound to these regulations are free to choose other methods, such as hair, or mouth swab drug testing.
A quick response is essential
The DOT regulations of eight hours for alcohol and 32 hours for drugs are the maximum, but they are not ideal. To obtain accurate results, it’s important to conduct a drug test as soon as possible. Alcohol testing should occur within two hours, and drug testing within 12 hours, for accurate results. Most common drugs can be tested in a standard panel, but under the updated DOT drug testing regulations, only the following are included:
In the case of a failed test
If an employee fails a post-accident drug test, they must be removed immediately from any task where safety could be an issue. The same applies if an employee refuses to take a drug test, because such a refusal is treated the same as if they failed the test.
Following a failed drug test, the DOT has a return-to-duty process, which involves counseling and possible additional treatment. The employee must meet with a trained and qualified Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) who will recommend a treatment plan. Once the SAP approves the employee for return to full responsibilities, the employee must pass additional testing before returning to their duties.