Last updated: November 27, 2023
Serious accidents at work can cause long-term health problems for employees and financial issues for businesses. Therefore, it is not surprising that many companies these days have a vested interest in ensuring that any accident which occurs at the workplace was not due to the use of alcohol or illegal drugs by one of their employees. This desire to reduce insurance premiums, minimize worker’s compensation claims and lower other financial loses is resulting in more businesses utilizing post-accident drug testing.
What is post accident drug testing?
Post accident drug testing takes place when an employee who was involved in a serious accident at work, an accident which results in a severe injury, significant property damage, or loss of life, undergoes testing for alcohol and illegal substances. These tests usually take place immediately following an on-site incident and within 12 hours of any off-site accident.
The company and law enforcement investigators have the option to use the results of a post accident drug test to determine if a possible cause of an accident was the worker’s impairment from drugs or alcohol. In most states in the US, a positive post accident drug test is grounds for a company to challenge paying a compensation claim to an injured worker
There are multiple post accident drug testing methods employees use, but the two most popular methods are urinalysis for illegal drugs (based on SAMHSA guidelines) and the use of a breathalyzer to determine the employee’s BAC (based on the DOT guidelines.) All samples should be collected securely and in a timely manner by a person who is specifically trained to handle this type of testing.
Besides alcohol, most post accident drug tests include tests for amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates, and phencyclidine (PCP). Less commonly, businesses may test for the use of barbiturates, bath salts, benzodiazepines, hydrocodone, MDMA (ecstasy), synthetic marijuana or Rohypnol (roofies).
The post accident drug testing controversy
Of course, not everyone is happy with a post accident drug testing policy which can cause the loss of compensation for an on-the-job injury. Over the years, employees have challenged the rights of companies which forced them to undergo testing following the report of each accident. In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created new guidelines which prevent businesses from requiring mandatory post accident drug testing. While the new guidelines do not ban post accident drug testing outright, they do limit the use of testing to accidents which have a reasonable expectation of being caused by the use of drugs or alcohol.
In the report, OSHA stated, “[To] strike the appropriate balance here, drug testing policies should limit post-incident testing to situations in which employee drug use is likely to have contributed to the incident, and for which the drug test can accurately identify impairment caused by drug use.”
In addition to forcing companies to prove there is a reasonable suspicion of drug use, the new guidelines forbid businesses to use drug testing or the threat of drug testing to prevent an employee from reporting an accident or making a worker’s compensation claim against the business. Employers who willfully violate the new guidelines can face fines up to $12,471 per violation.
It is important to note that the new OSHA guidelines do not cover all federal employees.
How businesses can keep within the law
In order to prevent costly fines from OSHA, businesses need to be aware of the new guidelines for post accident drug testing and modify their drug testing policies to stay compliant. Remember, it is still acceptable and advisable to maintain a drug testing policy at the workplace, but any long-standing policy may need a few modifications to adhere to the new OSHA guidelines.
All businesses should consider:
- Reviewing the new OSHA guidelines and ensuring managers are aware of the changes.
- Determining whether the new OSHA guidelines change the company’s voluntary drug-free workplace status.
- Updating drug policies to remove any mandatory drug testing connected to accident reports.
- Training managers how to identify a reasonable suspicion of substance use.
- Educating employees about the new OSHA guidelines and informing them how to file an accident report.