Everything You Need to Know About 'Post Accident Drug Testing'

Everything You Need to Know About 'Post Accident Drug Testing'


Companies and employers test employees for drug and alcohol use during different times and for various reasons. Some conduct testing before employment and some implement random drug testing.

Table Of Content:

Everything You Need to Know About 'Post Accident Drug Testing'

Unlike other drug testing reasons, post-accident drug testing is not used to prevent hiring a drug-using applicant.

What is a Post Accident Drug Test?

As the name suggests, post-accident drug testing is used to test an employee who has been involved in an accident that occurred at a workplace. It refers to on-the-job accidents involving human error whether in a vehicle or otherwise. It is sometimes also referred to as ‘post-incident drug testing’.

It is primarily used to decide if there was any involvement of drug abuse in the occurred accident.

Whenever employers wish to carry out post-accident drug testing, they must specify valid circumstances for when and how the testing would take place.

Few circumstances include, but are not limited to, loss of life or injuries where medical assistance was necessary. Few other criteria are summons by the police or damages to properties or vehicles beyond a certain monetary amount.

All these details should be clearly communicated in the company’s drug-testing policy because every business and workplace is unique. Hence there’s a need to carefully outline the elements of drug testing programs that are best suited for their workplace.

However, even if the result of a post-accident drug test turns out positive, it cannot be used as standalone proof to establish that drug use was the cause of the accident.

A post-accident drug testing policy can benefit a company in many ways. It can increase the safety of a workplace along with decreasing turnover, theft, and downtime. It can also help increase employees’ morale and productivity.

Companies implementing an effective post-accident testing program can also save on insurance costs, decrease legal liabilities and other expenses related to workplace accidents.

It also provides an opportunity for a person involved in the accident to get the necessary help and intervention.

Types of Drug Testing

As different drugs have different detection periods, a person must undergo a drug test within 12 hours of the accident. Usually, employees are restricted from returning to work until the test results are received.

Presently, in the general U.S. workforce, the only sample types legalized by the Federation for the post-accident drug test are urine specimen and oral fluid.

The reason is their ability to detect recent usage of the drug and its probability of involvement in the accident. In comparison, hair follicle testing, which is used to determine long-term and repetitive use of any drug, is not suitable for post-accident drug testing. 

Post Accident Drug Testing Procedure

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permits employers to implement post-accident drug testing on all employees and workers who were involved in the workplace incident. Even those who may not have sustained any injuries.

This helps the employer to correctly judge the cause of the workplace accident. The testing results can have dire consequences on an employee’s future employment options. Depending on the company policy, the employee can face prolonged suspension and, in some cases, even termination.

However, if you’re hurt on the job and claim for worker’s compensation to avail of medical and salary loss benefits, it can affect your company’s finance.

Hence to reduce financial blow, some companies try to find ways to deny an employee’s claim including post accident drug testing. 

Generally, injuries caused as a result of drug abuse or intoxication on the part of an employee are not covered by a company’s drug policy.

Here are the mandatory criteria for an employer to refuse an employee’s compensation claim.

1) The employee was intoxicated during the time of workplace injury.

2) The intoxication resulted in a mishap or injury.

However, even if the tests turn out positive, it’s not enough to prove that the substance caused the injury. The ultimate decision lies with the prevailing judge once all the necessary evidence is submitted.

Different drugs have different periods during which they can be detected. Hence a post-accident drug testing should be performed within 12 hours of the incident.

All the necessary instructions will be provided to you if you’re asked to carry out a drug test. The testing center will also be informed of your arrival for a post accident drug test. Usually, you’ll be prohibited from returning to work post a drug test.

Presently the only permitted test according to the federal drug testing program is the urine test. The presence of illicit drugs like cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, phencyclidine, and THC will be examined.

However, upon your employer’s demand, you may be tested for use of other substances including the drugs for which you have a prescription. Hence ensure to inform the physician about your medications beforehand.

Is Post Accident Drug Testing Legal?

Recently, OSHO clarified its stance on post accident drug testing for employees by issuing a memorandum.

The memo clarifies that post accident drug testing is legal and can be implemented when it is clearly a part of a company’s policy and safety culture.

An employer or company violates this guideline only if the testing is done with an aim of penalizing an employee instead of promoting an employee’s wellness and safety.

When there’s reasonable suspicion that drugs could have influenced an employee’s action, leading to the workplace accident, OSHO encourages companies to conduct post-accident drug testing. However, a blanket company policy, that mandates post accident drug testing even when there’s no reasonable suspicion involved, is prohibited.

These are the cases where drug testing is permissible, according to OSHO.

  • Drug testing that is unrelated to a workplace injury or accident or a chance testing.
  • Drug testing that complies with the compensation of state workers.
  • Drug testing that falls under other federal laws like the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rule.
  • Drug testing employed to assess the root cause of a workplace accident or injury. If an employer decides to use drug testing to inspect the accident, all the employers involved in the incident must undergo the test and not only the ones who have sustained injuries.
  • All the necessary tests must be conducted in a secure environment like a clinic, hospital any off-site testing center. 
  • If there are reasonable suspicions regarding the use of drugs by an employee in an accident, the necessary test needs to be conducted within 12 hours. 
  • Additionally, all the company safety policies should be in written form and communicated to the employees without fail.

Post Accident Testing Policies of DOT

DOT mandates post accident drug testing under the following circumstances.

  • If the injuries sustained in an accident required medical care away from the accident location
  • If there was any fatality involved in an accident
  • If there was at least one vehicle that needed towing due to sustained damages.

What Happens if You Fail a Post Accident Drug Test?

If your test results show up negative, you can seek an attorney’s assistance to claim compensation benefits.

If your post accident drug test comes out positive, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t be able to claim compensation benefits.

Workers’ Compensation Act states that only those injuries or deaths caused due to drug use or intoxication are omitted from coverage. Hence even if you test positive, but if the intoxication wasn’t the cause of the accident, the injury is deemed compensable.

Several factors might have contributed to the workplace accident. And these are the questions to consider:

What it the intoxication that caused the accident or was another reason involved?

For instance, the machinery on which you’d been working at the time of the accident may have been defective. Maybe if you were sober there were more chances of you noticing the flaw earlier. However, the defective machinery continues to be the ultimate cause of your injury.

Did some lawfully prescribed medicines cause a positive result?

In some cases, the positive test may result due to your prescribed medication. Also, in many states, since the legalization of MMJ, the presence of MMJ alone is not sufficient to establish that intoxication was the cause of the accident.

Was the blood correctly drawn and were the results accurate?

Sometimes the positive outcome may be a result of negligence on the part of the testing center.

Was the positive result due to past or recent drug use?

Sometimes a positive result occurs due to the type of testing employed. For example, a hair follicle test may detect the presence of past drug use. Hence, it’s always recommended to undergo a urine test for post accident drug testing.

However, if the tests turn out positive due to valid reasons, DOT mandates employees to complete the SAP Program with a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) to resume work. 

The first step is to find a qualified SAP. The Substance Abuse Professional will meet and discuss with you all the required procedures and recommend treatment after considering the DOT guidelines. This could either be a treatment or an education or in some cases, both.

The duration of the treatment depends on the treatment level along with your dedication towards the successful treatment completion.

During this time your progress will be constantly monitored and evaluated. Hence, it’s advisable that you take your treatment seriously especially if you plan on returning to safety-sensitive jobs. And once you comply with all the necessary procedures and treatments you will need to complete a return-to-duty testing as part of the DOT’s drug testing procedure.

And once you clear this test, your SAP can submit a clearance report, post which you will be permitted to return to duty.

After that, it’s totally up to your company or employer to decide whether to allow you to resume safety-sensitive duties.

However, you will be required to undergo follow-up tests post receiving the negative result and the frequency of the follow-up testing must be in line with the SAP guidelines.

Bottom Line

Stopping workplace accidents is not under our control. However, we can always take the necessary precautions to prevent and minimize mishaps.

Many companies and employers, to prevent financial impact on themselves, will leave no stone unturned in trying to prove that the accident was the result of your negligence.

Hence, avoid consuming drugs or alcohol during safety-sensitive duties and always ensure to familiarize yourself with the safety policies of your company.

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