Officials in this industry tout their dedication to safely transporting students, and with good reason — there are countless administrators and school bus drivers who provide exemplary service. However, SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s latest Web Poll demonstrates that the industry is not without individuals who put the safety of others at risk by using impairing substances.
When asked whether they have dealt with drug abuse among employees at their transportation department or bus company, more than one-third of respondents said “yes.”
While this figure may seem surprising, national statistics on drug use as it relates to the workplace suggest that it’s fairly common. Seventy-five percent of drug abusers admit to using drugs at work, and 64 percent say it affects their performance.
These are two figures presented during Corporate Drug & Alcohol Specialist Inc.’s (CDAS) “Recognizing the Drug Impaired” program. Inspector Bryan Schafer of the Minneapolis Police Department is an instructor for CDAS. He has found that prescription drugs are taking over the drug scene and that this makes it more difficult to detect whether someone is using drugs.
“You may have a guy who used to smoke marijuana and you’d see burn marks on his hands or smell it,” Schafer says. “But if the person now goes to the doctor and gets a prescription for Xanax, you’re not going to know if he’s taken it unless you look at his pupils and see how he handles himself.”
For transportation officials, preventing substance abuse among employees requires establishing a comprehensive policy on the issue. Education on several levels is also key.
Ray Lanoux, director of risk, emergency and facilities management for Dallas County Schools, says the district expanded its drug testing policy last year to include the bus monitors as an added safety measure.
Operations enforce strict policies
Dallas County Schools (DCS) based its policy on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) regulations.
DCS’ policy states that employees cannot come to work impaired on any substances; those who exhibit signs of impairment are subject to reasonable suspicion drug testing. Individuals are also subject to pre-employment, post-offer, random, post-accident and follow-up testing.
Ray Lanoux, director of risk, emergency and facilities management for the district, says the testing policy applies to everyone in the transportation department who is involved in operating or maintaining a commercial motor vehicle. Last year, the district expanded the policy to include bus monitors.
“It increases safety, and internally it increases fairness among the employees,” he says. “We’re treating employees in the transportation realm more equally now, and it’s been positively received.”
To ensure that drug tests are administered correctly, DCS utilizes the services of Pinnacle Medical Services. If an employee within DCS’ transportation department tests positive, he or she is subject to termination.
“People have to understand that when you’re transporting children, it’s just not tolerated,” Lanoux says.
Kevin Neafie, director of transportation for Michigan City (Ind.) Area Schools (MCAS), agrees, and his operation practices the same policy.
Random drug testing is performed every three months by Midwest Toxicology. Employees are also subject to reasonable suspicion testing.
“We call the person in, discuss that a situation has been brought to our attention, and the person is sent to our healthcare provider to take a drug and alcohol test,” Neafie says.
(Midwest Toxicology is based in Indianapolis, so for times when reasonable suspicion testing is needed, it is more efficient to send employees to the clinic.)
Beach Transportation in Missoula, Mont., also enforces a zero-tolerance policy for substance abuse. Safety Director Tracie Stahl says the contractor’s drug testing program involves the regulations dictated by the DOT.
“Consequences of substance use and abuse may include termination,” Stahl adds. “If a driver tests positive, they are immediately removed from their duties and provided with resources for help with substance abuse.”