ON MANY occasions people say they hope for a “good hair day.” Perhaps they're getting a family picture taken, standing up in a wedding or giving an important presentation in front of a large crowd. Yet if the day arrives and a few strands fall out of place, likely no one will even notice … and it certainly shouldn't impact a person's success or failure.
However, there is one instance when having a good hair day can (and should) actually mean the difference between landing a job and losing it — and may even be the difference between life and death. That is the day a truck driver gives a few strands of his or her hair to be tested for drug use.
In 2007 my colleague and Schneider safety leader, Don Osterberg, read a survey that showed 10% of truck drivers on the nation's highways admitted to being drug users. A well-known safety advocate for the industry, Osterberg recognized that standard urine tests weren't catching habitual users and began investigating alternative forms of weeding out such risky drivers.
After an exchange of best practices with J B Hunt Transport Inc, we found our answer in hair testing, which had been commercially available since the 1980s and whose results regularly hold up in court. While urine tests can only detect most drugs 24 to 48 hours after consumption, the window of detection goes back several months when you test hair. And unlike urine testing, it's extremely difficult to tamper with the validity of hair tests.
With a similar timeframe to receive urine test results (one to three business days) and a much easier sample collection process, Schneider added hair testing to its driver pre-hire process in March 2008. Three years later, the company was also using hair testing in its random testing program. Because hair testing can be used to screen for the most commonly abused illegal and prescription drugs, the company uses it to test for the exact same five families of drugs that the US Department of Transportation-approved urine tests detect.
For those who question the accuracy of urine versus hair testing, the proof is in the numbers: Between the date of Schneider's first hair test and April 2012, approximately 100 prospective drivers failed the urine test. Shockingly though, about 1,300 had drug-positive hair tests. The good news: Hair testing kept 1,200 drivers out of Schneider's fleet. The bad news: These drivers likely joined on with another carrier and are on the road regardless.
Under current federal regulations, a motor carrier cannot release information about an individual who tests positive unless they receive a written authorization from that individual. Logic tells you very few disclose the fact that they tested positive and end up behind the wheel.
With surprisingly few carriers using hair testing even today, Schneider is concerned. That's why the company is advocating for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to allow motor carriers to use EITHER urine or hair testing in its federally mandated pre-employment screening processes.
Ideally, all carriers would use both forms. Urine testing still plays a valuable role in catching drug users because the drug metabolite isn't detectable until the hair grows past the scalp. That means hair testing does not catch very recent drug use.
Use of urine testing in situations where it's important to determine if an individual is under the influence at a given moment is still the recommended course of action. Cases of reasonable suspicion or after an accident are two examples where urine testing makes great sense. However, hair testing should be the method of choice for pre-employment and random testing — times when it's crucial to identify the chronic users.
Drivers themselves are some of Schneider's strongest champions in the quest to elevate hair testing. Good, responsible, safe drivers are absolutely in favor of making hair testing an industry standard. They know that the few bad apples out there are tainting the whole bushel and needlessly putting lives in danger.
Shippers can help push for safer highways, too. Ask your carriers if they screen their potential and current driver force with this method. If the answer is no, ask them to start… or tender your freight to those who are going the extra mile to mitigate risk. It's also easy to contact your legislators and ask them to encourage the FMCSA to endorse hair testing.
Schneider National believes sharing the same roads as the motoring public means sharing responsibility to ensure they are as safe as possible. Better, more reliable drug detection methods are a must, and hair testing deserves to at least be considered as a viable alternative to urine testing by the federal governing bodies and today's carriers. After all, the difference between a dangerous highway and a safer one may very well be as thin as a strand of hair. ♦