Little Rock, Arkansas
Greer Woodruff said J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. looked at all options when it considered adding hair testing to its drug-screening program for drivers. Among them was the test — which wasn’t required as part of the mandatory drug-screening process established by the U.S. Department of Transportation — which could shrink J.B. Hunt’s pool of prospective drivers in an industry battling a severe shortage.
“We had to talk about that,” said Woodruff, who is the Lowell-based companies vice president of safety and security. “It was, ‘Hey guys, it’s going to cut some drivers out of coming to work here. Are we OK with that?’ Our discussion was, if they’re using drugs, we don’t want them working for us. So those are the right people to turn away.”
J.B. Hunt Transport became the first major transportation company to adopt hair testing as part of its drug screening nine years ago and is hoping the proactive approach, along with the efforts of a growing number of trucking companies that have followed suit in years since, like Maverick USA in North Little Rock, will finally be recognized on the national level.
J.B Hunt and Maverick support companion bills recently introduced in Congress that would make hair testing an acceptable method of drug screening for trucking companies. The bill also would allow flagged hair tests to be part of a national database shared by trucking companies. Urinalysis is the only form currently recognized by the Transportation Department, which has taken its direction from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The bills would not make hair testing mandatory but would provide trucking companies with more flexibility when conducting drug screens in hopes of keeping habitual users off the road. Currently, companies that elect to test hair as part of their drug-screening programs are required to conduct urine tests as well, shouldering the costs of both exams.
Hair tests are regarded as harder to adulterate, and they provide a longer look at a prospective driver’s past. Hair tests typically detect drug use as far back as 90 days, while urine tests typically span the previous two or three days.
Ten years ago, two J.B. Hunt drivers were involved in fatal accidents. Both drivers tested positive for drug use.
The company has since conducted hair and urine drug screens on more than 82,000 drivers between May 2006 and December 2014, according to data provided by J.B. Hunt. Of those, 3,845 drivers went undetected for drug use in the urine exam but tested positive in the hair test. Woodruff said prospective drivers fail the hair test 6 ½ times more than those flagged by urine tests.
None of J.B. Hunt’s drivers have tested positive for drug use since 2007, Woodruff said. “That’s absolutely huge,” said Kyle Hicks, who is a regulatory affairs specialist at Omega Laboratories. “Post accident, in any industry, that’s traditionally where you find someone has been using despite having gotten through the pre-employment test.
“You’re just creating a safer workplace overall by insuring that people who are choosing a lifestyle of drug abuse are not entering that system and hoping to not have an accident.”
Omega Laboratories, a hair-testing facility based in Ohio, processes hair tests for several motor carriers. They receive samples of hair cut as close to the skin or scalp as possible. The laboratory tests a segment of hair about 1½ inch in length.
Hicks said hair tests are gaining traction in the trucking industry largely because of the drawbacks associated with urinalysis.
A 2007 Government Accountability Office study found the Transportation Department’s testing program was “vulnerable to manipulation by drug users.”
“The majority of these motor carriers believe that the urine testing program as set forth by the DOT is no longer effectively catching drug users,” Hicks said. “So we do have companies actually reaching out to us and contacting us. I know that’s true of the other two major hair-testing labs as well.”
After recognizing the success of J.B. Hunt’s program, Maverick began hair-testing its drivers in August 2012. Schneider National Inc., Gordon Trucking and C.R. England are among other major trucking fleets conducting hair tests on drivers.
Jeff Lester, executive vice president and chief risk officer at USA Truck, said the Van Buren-based Company is exploring the possibility of hair testing as well. He said USA Truck supports anything that will improve highway safety as long as it’s “reasonable, fair and consistent.”
Groups like the Trucking Alliance, the American Trucking Associations and the Arkansas Trucking Association support the legislation. Lane Kidd, managing director of the Trucking Alliance, said he didn’t detect much resistance even though a similar bill never gained much traction two years ago.
“While drug use is not noticed for being the cause of a lot of the accidents, we do find that when truck drivers are involved in highway accidents and under the influence of drugs, the accidents do tend to be much more severe and they do tend to be accidents in which people are injured,” Kidd said. “So the severity of the accidents is enough reason to try to make sure we don’t have truck drivers under the influence or behind the wheel. It just seems like such an obvious thing to support.”
But the push to make hair testing acceptable for drug screens doesn’t sit well with everyone. Scott West, a truck driver who declined to say which company he worked for when interviewed in Springdale last week, said he removed himself from consideration from a driving position after discovering the company required a hair test. West believes that an industry already suffering from a severe driver shortage will lose even more if hair testing is approved.
“I don’t believe anybody ought to be out there in that truck drinking and smoking dope,” West said. “But this is the way I look at it: What I do with my time when I get home, that’s my business.”
Undrac Weaver, a driver for Little Rock-based Thompson Transportation, said a 90-day window might not tell the complete story about a driver’s history with drugs, either.
“Let’s say you used to do it, you’ve gotten yourself clean and you’ve been clean for about 90 days,” Weaver said. “You get a hair test, and it still comes back positive. You still can’t get a job. It doesn’t matter one way or the other to me because I don’t do drugs. But I don’t think that would be fair.”
The only drawback for a company like J.B. Hunt is the cost of conducting both tests, although the push to make hair testing acceptable isn’t merely about boosting the bottom line. Woodruff said J.B. Hunt plans to put any money saved by the elimination of duplicative testing into other safety initiatives “intended to reduce accidents and work-related injuries.”
For now, urine tests cost between $35 and $40. Hair tests are between $50 and $60. If a trucking company conducts 10,000 hair and urine screens for drivers on an annual basis it would cost an additional $500,000 to $600,000 for both tests.
Woodruff called it a deterrent to companies that are on thin margins to begin with, but believes that more carriers would likely adopt hair testing more quickly if given the choice by the Transportation Department. And for those still unable to shoulder the extra cost, Woodruff said, the ability to share flagged results in the clearinghouse should solve the problem. It would be harder for drivers who failed a hair test at J.B. Hunt to slide into a truck by passing a urine test at another company.
“We’re willing to spend a little bit more money to go through more candidates to find one that’s drug-free than to hire people who are drug users and then have all the ill effects of that within your workforce,” Woodruff said.
By Robbie Neiswanger
© Arkansas Democrat – Gazette
Business Section – “Give Hair Tests Respect, Hunt Says”
Published: Sunday April 5, 2015