- The Department of Health and Human Services will issue a notification Thursday on mandatory guidelines on the use of hair for pre-employment and random drug testing, according to a notice filed with the Federal Register, a move that could change how fleets screen prospective employees.
- The guidelines authorize federal agencies to include hair, which was previously prohibited, in drug testing programs. Agencies would also have to authorize and set up protocols for the testing of at least one other specimen type (urine, for example), which would be collected at the same time as the hair sample or it could be ordered after a hair test comes back positive.
- HHS is examining the necessity of a two-test process. It is asking for and monitoring scientific information on the limitations of hair testing. The department is seeking public comments during a 60-day period, which will begin after the notice is published in the Federal Register Thursday.
The American Trucking Associations is a proponent of hair testing at the federal level, claiming the form of testing is five times as effective for detecting drug use.
But the ATA views the HHS mandatory guidelines as a "tremendous disappointment," according to a statement from President and CEO Chris Spear. "Our biggest concern is the requirement to have an 'alternate specimen' for testing in the event of an initial positive hair test," ATA said in a statement emailed to Transport Dive, calling the practice "redundant" and a "burden." ATA said the requirement undermines hair testing effectiveness and could create discrepancies in the results.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes hair-testing mandates. The association has raised concerns about hair texture bias, higher costs, faith-based and medical reasons for being unable to give a hair sample, and having a lack of hair. "Given these issues and the lack of scientific evidence that hair testing will reduce crashes, we will continue opposing the pursuit of any hair testing mandates," OOIDA said in an email.
The debate surrounding hair testing versus urinalysis is sometimes over which one is "better."
But according to Health Street Founder and CEO Jared Rosenthal, they are simply different tests. "One should expect different outcomes," Rosenthal, whose company offers drug testing services for clients, including DOT, said in an email.
A urinalysis test can identify someone who has used drugs recently. A hair test can examine the last 90 days but does not pick up the most recent five or so days of drug use, due to the growth rate of hair.
The HHS guideline to order a urine test after a positive hair test "seems crazy to me," Rosenthal said. "A positive hair test that has gone through confirmation testing can take 5 to 7 days - which is exactly enough time to refrain from drugs and then provide a clean urine sample." The opposite approach — a hair test following a positive urine test — "would be more prudent," he said.
The trucking industry has been awaiting updated rules on hair testing — HHS said the guidelines are a result of an assessment that began in 1997. With a lack of federal rules, some of the industry's biggest players, including Schneider and Knight-Swift, have instituted hair-testing programs separate from DOT's mandatory urinalysis test.
During the FMCSA Truck Safety Summit last month, Jaime Maus, vice president of safety and compliance for Werner, said out of 5,000 positive hair tests the carrier has conducted over the last couple years, "only a handful of those also tested positive in urine."
At the same panel discussion, Maverick Vice President of Safety and Driver Training Dean Newell said his company had 324 failed hair tests and 18 failed urine tests, taken at the exact same time from August 2019 to the end of June. "The scary part of that is 306 people that failed with me are possibly driving for somebody else," Newell said.
In 2017, about 5% of drivers of heavy-duty trucks involved in fatal crashes tested positive for at least one drug, although 59% were not tested, according to a report from the FMCSA. "A driver is more likely to be tested for drugs if there is information from the crash indicating that drugs may have been a factor," the report stated.