Hair Testing to Become Part of DOT Drug Testing Programs

Dec 14, 2015

The United States Congress passed Act H.R.22 on December 4, 2015, which will include authorization of funds for federal-aid highways, highway safety programs, and transit programs. Included in this act is the authorization for employers to introduce pre-employment and random hair testing (random testing only if the employee was subjected to pre-employment hair testing) into their drug testing programs.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has been tasked with developing scientific parameters and other rules regarding hair testing within the next year, but it’s safe to say at this point that hair testing will become procedural in the near future.

So how does this affect Canadian employers? The impact will be twofold. Firstly, Canadian transportation companies that employ CMV (Commercial Motor Vehicle) operators who travel into the U.S. will now have the option, or possible mandate, to screen new employees using hair strand analysis instead of standard urine analysis. Secondly, since many drug testing models in Canada are either loosely or entirely based on DHHS or Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, hair testing may become part of a standard Canadian workplace drug testing program.

Hair Testing Benefits

Detection Window: 90 Days Compared to 3 Days. If an employer is making a hiring decision based on the successful outcome of a drug test, then a 90 day window of detection may be preferred over that of only 3-5 days. Most drug users, save for the most seriously addicted, could easily abstain for a few days and present a drug-free urine specimen.

Accuracy. Over the course of 8 years, J.B. Hunt, a large U.S.-based transportation company, conducted a comparative study between urine and hair testing under their DOT regulated drug testing program. Of the 70,935 tests conducted, urine testing yielded 578 positive test results while hair testing (collected from the same employee at the time of the urine collection) yielded a whopping 3,923 positive test results, almost 7 times more! More interestingly, the random positive rate prior to the hair program’s introduction was at 1.4% at its peak and was reduced to an average of 0.25% over the final 3 years of the study, which is over a 5 times reduction in positive test rates. Click here to view the study.

Deterrent. Knowing that any drug use within a 3 month window will be detected by a hair test will act as a stronger deterrent for those employees who use drugs recreationally and are only faced with a urine or oral fluid testing program with a limited detection window of only a few days.

Downside. It is widely agreed upon that hair testing is superior to urine testing in almost every way, except for the detection of very recently used drugs. If recent use is a focus for a particular test (e.g. under reasonable suspicion), then a urine or oral fluid test would be the better option.

To Hair Test or Not to Hair Test

It has been a long-standing argument in Canada that drugs used months in the past have no bearing on whether an employee can perform his or her job function safely, countered by the position that hiring employees who use illicit drugs decreases overall workplace safety and productivity as well as increases sick time, inventory shrinkage, and accidents. However, regardless of the testing methods, what is more important is using the best option to identify the employees who use illicit drugs so that the employer can get them the help they need. At this time, the best test to accomplish this is hair testing.

As hair testing is added to Canadian drug testing programs regulated by the DOT Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA), you can count on DATAC to keep our members up-to-date on the changes to the Canadian workplace and Canadian Drug Testing Industry.