Transportation Industry Upset over Substance Abuse Testing

Article excerpt

A far-reaching piece of legislation slipped into effect last week, under the very noses of the new majority on Capitol Hill who would eradicate all evidence of regulatory activism.

Prudence, perhaps, on the part of the agency involved, the Transportation Department, dictated a slight delay in one of the measure's provisions, but the delay is unlikely to stave off its inevitability. It is safe to say that few of the people affected by the measure are happy.

Congress passed the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991 in the wake of an alcohol-related accident on a New York subway that killed several people.

The legislation broadens the coverage and scope of alcohol- and drug-testing programs for "safety sensitive" employees in several transportation industries, expanding by at least 3 million the number of workers who would be covered.

The measure would have gone into effect several months ago but for bureaucratic delays. Those delays held up the publication of the rules in the Federal Register until last February, giving employers almost 11 months to prepare for the changes.

As often happens with federal edicts, the only person willing to express pleasure at the new fiat was the official in charge.

"A transportation workplace free of drug and alcohol misuse is vital to the safety of the traveling public," Transportation Secretary Federico Pena said in December. "Gaining the benefits of alcohol and drug testing starting now is a high safety priority."

The measure requires random testing of almost 7 million workers. It affects some 6.6 million holders of commercial driver's licenses, almost double the number currently covered; 340,000 pilots, air traffic controllers, attendants and other airline workers; 80,000 railroad employees, including engineers, signalers and dispatchers; 200,000 operators, controllers and maintenance workers for mass transit vehicles; 120,000 pipeline operators, and 120,000 maritime workers.

The Jan. 1 effective date applies to companies with 50 or more safety-sensitive employees. Smaller companies have another year to comply.

The law prohibits safety-sensitive employees from working within four hours _ eight hours for pilots and other members of flight crews _ of using alcohol, or while showing an alcohol concentration in the blood of more than 0. …