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September 30, 2010  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Proactive Employers Keep Operations Substance-Free

Pupil transportation officials have a zero-tolerance attitude toward on-the-job drug and alcohol use, and staff members undergo testing frequently. Experts say that understanding the effects of these substances and learning how to recognize signs of abuse are integral to maintaining a safe workplace.

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Among the hands-on activities that trainees engage in, Schafer says, is measuring one another’s pupils.

“We distribute what we call a ‘pupilometer,’ which is a business card with a bunch of dots in different millimeter sizes,” Schafer explains. “We show them what the norm is for pupil size, and how to look at them and make an assessment [about impairment].”

More information about the program can be found at

In Talbot’s drug recognition training program, instructors teach non-invasive drug abuser screening techniques. Central to this is the Talbot Method, which Talbot describes as a “hands-off process of documenting in a standardized report form the physical symptoms that the body displays when drugs are taken at an impairing level.”

Talbot says that chemical drug tests are just one component of a complete fitness-for-duty examination and that far too many supervisors put too much weight behind the chemical test result as opposed to documenting workplace performance impairment.

“A supervisor trained in recognizing and properly documenting physical symptoms of impairment can establish reasonable suspicion to warrant a fitness-for-duty examination,” he adds.

Talbot also points out more far-reaching benefits of such training.

“Well trained supervisors who regularly observe driver behavior and performance for the signs of substance abuse and impairment not only help reduce the incidence of unsafe driving, they also reduce liability by demonstrating that the operation is taking all reasonable steps to prevent an impaired driver from getting behind the wheel,” he says.

For more information on Talbot’s program, visit

Dawn Dregier, president and CEO of SAP Referral Services LLC, says that some employers fail to send a drug and alcohol release of information form to applicants’ previous employers, which enables substance abusers to continue operating commercial motor vehicles.

Loopholes in the applicant screening process

The DOT’s final rule on procedures for transportation workplace drug and alcohol testing programs became effective on Oct. 1.

Specifications require testing for ecstasy, lowering cutoff levels for cocaine and amphetamines and conducting mandatory initial testing for heroin.

While the DOT’s regulations are designed to ensure that commercial motor vehicle drivers work safely, Dawn Dregier, president and CEO of SAP Referral Services LLC, says there is a weakness in drug testing at the pre-employment level that enables substance abusers to continue operating commercial vehicles.

She says that if an individual applies to a company and fails a pre-employment drug test, then applies at another company and tests clean, there is no way for the second company to know that the person failed the test for the first company.

“The majority of states have no drug and alcohol reporting responsibilities, and there’s no tracking system at the federal level, so there’s no way to catch these people,” Dregier says.

(Eight states — Arkansas, California, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Washington — require reporting in some capacity.)

Another factor that is contributing to this problem stems from an error on the part of some employers.

“Anytime anyone applies for a safety-sensitive position like a school bus driver, the DOT requires that the employer, prior to hiring the person, send out a 49 CFR Part 40 drug and alcohol testing release of information form to all of the applicant’s employers from the last three years to request disclosure of prior drug and alcohol violations. Some employers do not do this, and it’s allowing for another loophole,” Dregier says.

The form asks such questions as “Did the employee have alcohol tests with a result of 0.04 or higher?” and “Did a previous employer report a drug and alcohol rule violation to you?”

Dregier also notes that employers are obligated under federal guidelines to provide individuals, whether they’re employees or applicants, with resources to access DOT-qualified substance abuse professionals if they test positive for drugs or alcohol or refuse to submit to a test.

For operations that practice this, SAP Referral Services can provide assistance. The company offers connections to a nationwide network of qualified substance abuse professionals who are trained in working within DOT guidelines.

For more information, call (888) 720-SAPS or visit

Substances and their effects

Marijuana and hashish: Red eyes, neglect of appearance, loss of interest and motivation

Herion: Addiction, loss of appetite

Cocaine: Restlessness, anxiety

Amphetamines: Paranoia, excessive irritability, mood swings

LSD: Dilated pupils, hallucinations, mood swings

PCP: Slurred speech, confusion, agitation, impaired memory and perception

Inhalants (gasoline, hair spray, fingernail polish remover, etc.): Poor motor coordination, impaired vision and thought processes

Source: "How to spot illicit drug abuse in your patients." Posgraduate Medicine, Vol. 106, No. 4

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