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PHMSA Raises Random Testing Rate to 50% for 2018

Pipeline Hazardous Materials Services Administration (PHMSA) announced in the Federal Register dated December 8, 2017 that the random testing rate for drugs would increase from 25% to 50%.  The question remains why and how did this happen.

There are questions to be asked for this event.

  1. Is it because of improved reporting?
  2. Is it because of increased general drug use among PHMSA covered employees?
  3. Was it the use of a drug (e.g., marijuana) that caused the increase?
  4. Will this rate increase transcend to other operating administrations?
  5. When can it return to 25% random testing rate?

Improved reporting is not the cause as the Federal Register notice alludes to other reporting methodologies and for the issuance of usernames and passwords to PHMSA regulated employees.  This has been an issue for several of the modes with no easy solution.  Once a username and password are issued, does that imply the employer is going to submit a report?  No, as the submitting of a reporting is still up to the employer.   Will the use of fines or penalties help?  No, as there are several hundred or thousands of employers to comply.  This large number makes it hard to get enforcement compliance

That is a debatable question as the Quest index has shown a general increase in drug use even in the regulated industries.  If this is the case, then it should appear with other transportation industries.  It should be noted that will be dependent upon reporting accuracy and enforcement of the testing program of the various modes.  Because as a rule, members of the public are not allowed to see the finalized Management Information System (MIS) reports for each operating administration, so it will be very difficult to see why and how the rates changed for each.

The increase has been in the use of marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes.  For a long time, the marijuana has been considered a “soft” drug when compared to other drugs.  It is this perception that leads personnel to use marijuana.  It is still a Schedule I Controlled Substance, not legal for use with any Federal testing program or on Federal Property or Federal waterway.

Will this transcend to the other transportation modes?  It is hard to say or predict currently but must wait and see.  Some of the operating administrations are required to publish annually the MIS report.

The testing rate can return to a 25% testing rate only after there has been two consecutive years of the positive rate below 1%.

See more here: PHMSA Notice

About Bob Schoening

Robert Schoening is well renowned for his knowledge and influence in the drug-testing arena. As the Drug and Alcohol Program Manager for the US Coast Guard (December 2001-March 2013) he developed and managed a successful drug testing program for the marine industry nationwide and internationally.  During this time he developed and implemented a new compliance audit checklist as well as the writing and publishing a new Marine Employers Guidebook for Drug Testing.  He is also the author of the federal regulation commonly known as the two-hour alcohol testing for maritime incidents.

Robert’s drug testing career began in the Navy Medical Department, where he received the Navy Achievement Medal for his work on development of the Navy drug-testing program which was the first major workplace drug-testing program in the country. He retired in 1985 after serving 24 years.

Upon his retirement, Robert established his own drug testing consulting company assisting other companies to establish drug-free workplaces and drug testing programs, concentrating primarily on the marine industry. His knowledge of regulations and policy helped build his company to be one of the premier providers of drug testing services for the marine industry. During this time he was instrumental in establishing many of the current federal policies that are in place.

Robert has served on the Board of Directors of the Substance Abuse Program Administrators Association (SAPAA) as well as chairing the Governmental and Legislative Affairs committee. He was one of the first individuals to be recognized as an expert in the Drug and Alcohol testing industry and to receive designation as a Certified Substance Abuse Program Administrator (1996).

Robert is active participant in community service.  He recently served on the Policy Board for the Alcohol Safety Action Program in Fairfax, VA (January 1989-December 2012).  Since moving to Whidbey Island in Washington, he has been named to serve on the Substance Abuse Committee and recently been named to serve on the Ferry Advisory Committee both of these committees are located in Island County, WA.

Robert is currently a consultant for Workplace Drug Testing and Drug Abuse Prevention Programs.