Six major trucking companies are seeking Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration approval to use hair analysis instead of urine testing as part of their pre-employment screening process of truck drivers.
Truck drivers currently are required to undergo mandatory urine testing under FMCSA’s federal regulation regarding pre-employment screening for drugs and alcohol.
The carriers, which include J.B. Hunt Transport Inc., Schneider National Carriers Inc., Werner Enterprises Inc., Knight Transportation Inc., Dupre Logistics Inc and Maverick Transportation, said data “demonstrates that hair analysis is a more reliable and comprehensive basis for ensuring detection of controlled substance use.”
“We believe everyone would agree there is no place for drug use in a safety-sensitive environment such as the trucking industry,” said Tom DiSalvi, vice president of safety and loss prevention for the motor carrier. “As far back as 2008, Schneider was aware there were alternative routes to urinalysis – which only detects drug use in the prior few days – that might better identify drug users.”
Schneider, headquartered in Green Bay, Wis., and the other carriers have found that “hair testing was in fact a viable alternative to urine testing and was more accurate in determining the habitual drug use of pre-employment applicants,” DiSalvi said.
Through the course of conducting side-by-side hair and urine testing, Schneider said it has discovered the positive rate for applicants with hair testing is nearly four times greater than those tested with urinalysis.
“The industry challenge now is that these drivers who were turned down due to a positive hair test are likely working elsewhere for companies who do not use hair testing,” DiSalvi said. “We believe a fully qualified applicant includes one whose hair test results indicate they do not have a record of drug use.”
The exemption sought by the carriers would allow them to “discontinue pre-employment urine testing” and use only hair analysis testing when pre-screening drivers.
The notice of the companies’ exemption application was posted to the Federal Register on Jan. 19. FMCSA requests public comment on the filing by Feb. 21.
If the exemption is approved, “individuals testing positive would not be allowed to perform safety-sensitive functions until the driver completes the return-to-duty process.”
Candidates would also be able to share the positive hair testing results with prospective employers, according to the application filed with the FMCSA.
An FMCSA spokesman declined to comment on the exemption request.
But the practice of drug screening hair versus urine does have its critics.
Hair testing is “actually the worst option” because the tests are “too unreliable,” said Lewis Maltby, president and founder of the National WorkRights Institute.
“Scientists who have studied hair testing have tried to explain its reliability issues, but the trucking industry isn’t interested in fixing the problem,” Maltby told Trucks.com.
“If you do ingest any types of medications or drugs, it will show up in a hair follicle,” he said. “The problem is that hair testing can’t distinguish between the drug metabolizing inside the hair versus outside contamination in the air that gets into a driver’s hair.”
One of the main problems with hair testing is the ability to get the hair clean enough so there isn’t anything on the surface to create a false positive, Maltby said.
And no one is interested in helping someone who flunked a hair test, but may have really gotten a false positive, he said.
One J.B. Hunt driver said for a while now her company has been using hair analysis when screening new drivers, which is a big change from when she started with the company more than 20 years ago.
“I am kind of torn on the issue, if you aren’t doing anything you shouldn’t be doing, it’s really not an issue,” said the driver, who asked that her name be withheld because she was not authorized to speak about the issue.
Hair testing can also create some odd problems. While working as a trainer for J.B. Hunt, the woman said she encountered a driver who didn’t have any hair on his body so a hair analysis couldn’t be performed.
“The company sent him home until he grew some hair so he could be tested and he was fine and able to work for us,” she said.
Truckers driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a nagging problem for the trucking industry.
A July 2015 Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, for example, alleges that Hector Contreras, a driver for CRST International, was driving under the influence at the time of a 2014 crash that severely injured Michael Lenning, a former California Sheriff’s Deputy, and his brother, Matthew Lenning. The suit seeks punitive damages of around $350 million.
Khail Parris, attorney for the Lennings, told Trucks.com that an employee screening agency hired by CRST “failed to conduct a criminal background check” on the defendant.
Parris said in the suit that a background check would have discovered Contreras allegedly had a prior criminal history “consisting of multiple convictions for the possession of illicit substances and illicit substance use, convictions for driving under the influence and a grand theft auto.”
He was fired only after the crash involving the brothers, but was involved in four prior preventable collisions.