Long hours, isolation and high salaries can be a toxic mix for workers in the oil and gas industry, leading many to turn to drugs and alcohol. It’s also dangerous work. Workplace fatalities in the sector increased by almost 26% in 2017 with 70% of those fatalities occurring on oil and gas work sites. And all this is at a time when drug use among all U.S. workers — particularly the use of cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamines — has risen to an all-time high.
The oil and gas industry operates in a challenging environment and its workers are often operating in dangerous conditions, which makes substance abuse among these employees even more of a concern. However, dealing with this problem is also more complicated for the oil and gas industry. First, workplaces tend to be isolated and second, unlike the aviation industry, relatively few workers are actually governed by strict Department of Transportation (DOT) drug testing regulations. (Learn more in Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Aviation Industry). The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Commission (PHMSC) regulates specific safety-sensitive positions within the industry, but in order to ensure all of their workplaces and workers remain drug and alcohol-free, companies must largely create and implement their own protocols around drug and alcohol testing. Basing your non-DOT policy on existing PHMSC/DOT regulations is a great place to start.
PHMSC Covered Employees
First, it is important to understand which employees and positions are governed by PHMSCA and DOT drug and alcohol regulations. PHMSCA regulations cover the operators and their contractors of natural gas and other gas pipeline transportation, hazardous liquids pipeline transportation, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline facilities. Employees and contractors covered by PHMSCA legislation include those who operate, maintain or provide emergency response functions in these companies. If you’re not sure about your status as a DOT or PHMSC covered employer or employee, check out DOT’s online Am I Covered tool.
Under PHMSC regulations, employers are not required to provide testing to contractors who perform covered functions, but they are legally required to audit and ensure contractors are conducting their own tests and reporting results. For some companies, a simpler approach to ensuring compliance is to include contractors in company testing programs.
In 2018, DOT expanded its 5-panel test to include a number of prescription painkillers referred to as opioids. The DOT test now covers marijuana (THC), cocaine, PCP, amphetamines and opioids which now include oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, and hydromorphone. These drugs are more commonly known by their brand names: Vicodin, Oxycontin, Lortab, Dilaudid, and Percocet. (Learn more in Prescription Drugs in the Workplace: Employer Rights vs. Employee Privacy Rights.)
There are legitimate reasons for certain prescription painkillers and under PHMSC/DOT regulations your Medical Review Officer (MRO) will make a determination regarding whether an employee is in contradiction of these regulations or represents a safety risk. If so, the employee will need to be removed from their safety-sensitive position. For any other positive test, there are a specific set of consequences.
Employers must remove any employee who fails or refuses a drug or alcohol test from safety-sensitive positions until the employee:
- Submits to an evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP)
- Completes any course, counselling or treatment prescribed by the SAP
- Completes a negative result return-to-duty alcohol or drug test
The employee will also be subject to a minimum of 6 random tests in the first year following their return to a safety-sensitive position and may be subject to random testing for a period of up to 5 years depending on the SAP’s recommendations. Both the return-to-duty test and follow-up test must be conducted under direct observation. Employers are required to provide their employees with a list of SAPs in their area.
Types of Testing
In addition to return-to-duty and follow-up tests, four other types of testing are required of PHMSC/DOT covered employers.
All PHMSC/DOT covered employees must undergo a drug test prior to being placed in a safety-sensitive position. This includes transfers within the company from non-safety-sensitive to safety-sensitive positions. Alcohol testing for new or transferred employees is optional.
As of 2018, random drug testing must be conducted on 50% of company employees covered by PHMSC/DOT. These tests must be truly randomized using a scientifically based method and be conducted throughout the year. There is an exception for employees who miss randomized testing for several years. These employees can be force chosen if they were not randomly selected for at least two years. There is no requirement for random screening for alcohol for PHMSC covered employees.
Within 32 hours of an accident, PHMSC employers, or their Designated Employer Representative (DER), must drug and alcohol test any covered employee whose performance may have contributed to a reportable accident. This means both employees whose performance actually contributed to the accident or whose performance cannot be completed discounted as a contributing factor.
Testing for reasonable suspicion of drug or alcohol use must be based on acute and observable symptoms including behavior, appearance, motor skills, speech or odor. Two supervisors, at least one of whom has received training in reasonable suspicion determination, must make the determination that an employee may be impaired and requires testing.
Refusal to Test
PHMSC covered employees who refuse tests are considered to have failed the test and are subject to the same consequences as employees who take and fail tests. These consequences will include removal from safety-sensitive positions and possible termination.
Management Information System reporting on drug and alcohol testing is required of all PHMSC employers who employ 50 or more workers. It can also be required of employers with fewer than 50 workers if a written request is made by the PHMSC.
If you are a PHMSC covered employer, you are expected to provide your workers and supervisors with appropriate drug and alcohol education including:
- Educational materials including information on the effects of alcohol and drug use, signs and symptoms of problems and available methods of intervention
- Copies of company drug and alcohol testing policies that include procedures as well as consequences
- A minimum of 1 hour each of training on recognizing the signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse for company supervisors
- Supervisor training on reasonable suspicion and the physical, behavioral, speech, and performance indications of probable alcohol misuse and use of prohibited drugs