PHMSA Drug Testing - Everything You Need To Know

PHMSA Drug Testing - Everything You Need To Know


The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation that regulates the transport of hazardous materials in the country. They are responsible for writing regulations on properly testing for drug use among transportation companies, workers, and individuals who transport certain hazardous materials by any means, including pipelines, railroads, waterways, highways, trucks, or airplanes. 

PHMSA regulates about 500 types of dangerous materials transported throughout the United States. Substances like flammable liquids, explosives, and pharmaceuticals are regulated by PHMSA and transportation companies and businesses transporting to separate parts of the country.

As per the studies, the most commonly used illicit drug among truck drivers, who transport those kinds of materials, is MMJ. In 2013, it was reported that the number of positive MMJ test results among PHMSA testers was anywhere from 4 to 11 percent. Then in 2014, it was reported that drug-positive testing was 10% by the end of the fiscal year.

Let's learn all about the different drug testing rules and regulations drawn by the PHMSA.

Table Of Contents:

The Mission And Responsibility Of PHMSA

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's goal is to ensure the safest transportation of hazardous materials through the country. PHMSA inspects companies, vendors, businesses, and individuals who transport hazardous substances and makes sure that each person follows the agency's rules and regulations to ensure nothing gets out of control or improperly transported. 

The PHMSA operates across the nation to protect the people, environment, and economy. PHMSA sets the standards for hazardous materials transport, pipeline facilities, and pipeline safety. The agency also sets out consistent rules throughout the country regarding being transported safely and securely. 

PHMSA regulates hazardous substances like flammable liquid, compressed gasses, radioactive materials, corrosive, and explosives. They enforce regulations based on prior industry practices and standards as a base form of regulating nationwide. 

However, the agency also has a safety mandate to inspect the equipment and substances used to transport hazardous substances at the worksite and on the road (including pipelines, railroads, waterways, highways, and other modes of transportation). 

Moreover, all of the above is done by the PHMSA because of various reasons such as:

  • To ensure the protection of the citizens and the environment.
  • To make sure that all businesses, vendors, and individuals who transport hazardous materials follow the rules and regulations set by the agency.
  • To ensure that everybody is adequately trained on maintaining and operating those vehicles and equipment used for transporting hazardous substances safely.
  • To ensure that the safety of those who work with or transport hazardous substances (such as truck drivers, railroad workers, pipeline workers) is not compromised in any way.

Who Is Drug Tested Under PHMSA?

Drug testing under PHMSA is required for all transportation companies that transport hazardous materials and railroads, pipeline operators, truck drivers, and any other type of transportation employee. Testing is also required for the companies that package or manufacture those hazardous substances and any individual who transports them.

For the truck drivers, however, their companies have to have a drug testing policy that applies to the drivers, or they could lose their operating authority (a petroleum company is a company that transports oil by truck). 

In other words, the PHMSA regulations state that any person who transports hazardous materials and is involved in maintaining or operating the vehicle that transports these substances must be subject to drug testing as stated above. 

It is not applicable only when the transported substance does not pose a significant safety hazard. Moreover, the drug testing should be done according to the DOT rules and conducted by a DOT-licensed laboratory.

Basic Requirements For An Operator Under The PHMSA Drug Testing Policy

The basic requirements that a transportation company should follow under the PHMSA drug testing policy include the following:

Each operator must maintain and follow a proper anti-drug program according to the process outlined in the DOT drug and alcohol testing regulations. The plan must contain the following:

  • Methods and procedures for complying with drug and alcohol testing program
  • The definition of drug abuse and a list of substances that are illegal under the DOT drug testing regulations
  • List of transportation company employees who need to be tested and how they are to be tested
  • The name and address of each laboratory that does testing for the transportation company
  • The name and address of the operator's MRO (medical review officer) and Substance Abuse Professional.
The operator may not use an employee if there is any evidence that the driver is under the impact of alcohol or illegal drugs when being tested.
The operator must make sure that they know all laws and regulations regarding drug testing in their state or country to comply with them.

What Are The Consequences If An Operator Fails To Follow PHMSA Regulations On Drug Testing?

The PHMSA is responsible for the regulations and rules to keep the air, highways, and water safety. Suppose the transportation companies, railroads, and pipeline operators do not follow the PHMSA drug testing policy or the DOT regulations, they could be fined or have their right to operate taken away. 

On top of that, they could also lose their inspection authorized by the U.S. Department of Transportation if there is ever any evidence that they are mismanaging their company's assets. Moreover, they could also face termination of their DOT operating permit if they lose it, which would lead to them being unable to transport any hazardous materials in the future.

Does The PHMSA Do Pre-Employment Drug Testing?

Yes, the PHMSA does pre-employment drug testing on candidates for employment. However, the candidates must be selected by contacting a laboratory before conducting the pre-employment drug test. 

The candidate should also be informed that they will need to undergo a pre-employment drug test as part of the job process and that they cannot be hired unless they pass it. No operator shall employ a person if the operator knows or should know a current substance abuse impairment. 

The process of pre-employment drug testing must be done following DOT regulations, and employers must attempt to accommodate employees who have legitimate medical reasons for testing positive. 

In that case, the operator may conduct a retest the employee who tested positive due to prescription drugs or other medical reasons. Additionally, it might depend on your state's regulations, which may or may not have a state law regarding pre-employment drug testing.

Are The Employees Randomly Drug Tested Under The PHMSA?

Yes, the employees are randomly drug tested under the PHMSA. However, before conducting a random drug test, an operator must use a scientifically valid method of determining which employees to test. 

It has to be based on job category or some other system considered fair and equitable. The operator has the right to select the method for choosing employees for random testing. Still, the technique must be strictly followed and produce results as consistently as possible from year to year. 

Additionally, the minimum annual testing percentage must be evenly distributed, based on need, across all categories of operators. Each operator who chooses to have a random drug testing program must ensure that the test is unannounced and that the results are confidential. 

However, if the drug test results are positive, the operator must promptly report the results. If there are multiple positive results for an employee, the operator shall also report to their MRO and Substance Abuse Professional. 

The operator is required under the PHMSA to ensure that all employees who may be predisposed to drug abuse are prohibited from being hired if they have failed a test for drugs.

What Is PHMSA's Definition Of A Post-Accident Drug Test?

A post-accident drug test is conducted under the PHMSA regulations on an employee who has been involved in an accident and has experienced a medical incident. It can also be conducted on an individual killed or injured in the accident. The testing is done to determine whether the employee was under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs at the time of occurrence. 

A drug test must be conducted within 32 hours of the incident or accident. Each covered employee involved in an accident or medical incident must get tested. Moreover, suppose the operator has some specific evidence that the employee was under the impact of alcohol or illegal drugs at the time of occurrence, those employees who underwent a post-accident drug test shall be required to undergo a follow-up test.

A positive drug test result might result in the operator taking appropriate disciplinary action against the employee. In addition, there are some situations where the operator may decide not to drug test an employee if the operator has some evidence that the employee was not under the impact of alcohol or illegal drugs at the time of occurrence.

However, if the test is not administered within 32 hours of the incident, the operator must cease the testing and state the reason for not administrating the test. The operator may not then resume the testing without the approval of the PHMSA.

What Is Reasonable Cause Drug Testing As Per The PHMSA?

Reasonable cause drug testing under the PHMSA is a drug test conducted when there is an indication or information that an employee might be on drugs. The tests must be conducted as soon as possible after the indication or information arises and before the employee performs the covered function. 

Reasonable cause drug testing can also be conducted in situations where drug use symptoms but no actual indications or information. These symptoms may include abnormal behavior, incoherent speech, and irrational behavior. 

As per the PHMSA, if an employee tests positive for drugs under reasonable cause drug testing, the operator must immediately begin the disciplinary process and may not allow the employee to perform their duties until they have been evaluated by a substance abuse professional. 

The operator must submit a report about the test result within ten days after the test is conducted. This report must contain all relevant information about any drug positive results of employees and explain how these were resolved. 

Furthermore, even the employee declaring a drug positive must be notified about the test results. If the employee disagrees with the results and wants to have a retest done, the employee can request one within five days of being notified about the test results. 

The operator must allow the employee to undergo a retest at a facility that the Substance Abuse Professional approves. Moreover, the PHMSA does not allow any direct or indirect discrimination against an employee because the employee has been tested positive for drugs.


As per the provisions of the PHMSA, each operator has to run a drug testing program for its employees. However, it is the operator's responsibility to ensure that only employees who undergo a drug test undergo it and that it does not violate any employees' rights under federal law. 

It is also essential for operators to understand that they must follow applicable federal laws and regulations like DOT when operating their drug testing program. Rules and guidelines on the administration of drug testing programs are constantly expanded, modified, and changed by the PHMSA. Therefore, the operator must stay updated with all changes to ensure that their program is compliant.


What Is The Minimum Percentage Of Annual Testing Under The PHMSA?

The minimum annual testing percentage must be evenly distributed across all categories of operators, based on need. It might vary from 25 percent to 50 percent. 

Can an employee opt for a follow-up test under PHMSA?

Yes, an employee can choose to get a follow-up drug test, and if their test is positive, they can opt for a retest. However, the Substance Abuse Professional has to do any further retesting of the same employee. Moreover, the operator must obtain the approval of the Substance Abuse Professional and PHMSA before resuming testing. Follow-up drug testing must be conducted within 30 days of the initial test.

What are the restrictions on post-accident drug testing under PHMSA?

There are no restrictions on post-accident drug testing under the PHMSA, but they must be conducted promptly. If an employee has other medical problems, such as asthma or diabetes, these should not be a reason for delaying the test. 

Are all prescriptions medications under PHMSA covered?

No, only those medications that are considered to be illegal drugs under the PHMSA are covered. Prescription medications that are not considered illegal, such as over-the-counter medications, do not require a drug test. 

However, if the medical practitioner suggests that the employee may be abusing prescription medication, the operator must conduct a drug test as soon as possible. If a prescription medication is involved in an accident or incident and there is sufficient evidence of use at the time of occurrence, it too must be tested for drugs.

Can an operator drug test an employee in violation of the DOT regulations?

Under the PHMSA, operators can drug test their employees in emergencies. The tests can be done without obtaining any prior approval or assessing the situation. If a positive drug test emerges from such a test, it may be used as evidence for disciplinary action against the employee. However, operators cannot take any disciplinary action against employees until they have received approval from the Substance Abuse Professional and PHMSA.

What are the criteria for return on-duty drug testing under the PHMSA?

Suppose an employee has not violated any drug testing rules or regulations and there is no evidence of drug abuse. In that case, the operator must allow the employee to return to duty after undergoing a drug test. 

If a positive test result emerges from this test, a recommendation for retesting is made. In that case, the operator has to allow the employee to return after a Substance Abuse Professional has evaluated them. Additionally, if the employee refuses to take a drug test may not return to duty until the employee has complied with applicable provisions of DOT Procedures.

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