In our efforts to get along with the European aviation people you no doubt have read about our efforts to get their maintenance people to do drug and alcohol testing and background checks, on their employees, like we do here in our country, regarding safety-sensitive positions. They have steadfastly refused to do so claiming that it is an invasion of their employees’ privacy. Of course that argument fell on deaf ears over here many years ago when it was first mandated in our aviation business. It now seems ironic that we might be imposing more stringent rules regarding what we will test for even when Europe says no to any testing at all. But first …
The Reauthorization Act for the FAA still lies in limbo in the Congress and most likely will do so well into this congressional session. One of the sticking points among others is requiring the FAA to inspect foreign repair stations at least twice a year and as noted, require background checks and mandatory drug and alcohol testing for the safety-sensitive workers at foreign repair stations, just as we do for our own people. The European regulators have threatened to dismantle bilateral agreements and flight activities if we persist in imposing testing requirements and inspections on their workers. They have done this numerous times in the past on other issues with some success in thwarting our efforts on testing.
Representative Jim Oberstar (D-MN) former House Aviation Committee Chairman was defeated in the recent election and will be replaced. Things may now get tougher for the Europeans. House Representative Jerry Costello (D-IL) is now chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, and his counterpart in the Senate is Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND). Hopefully, they will continue to press for drug testing in Europe. They will be the point men to go to in order to support testing in Europe.
A new twist
A recent case (discussed below) brings to light a further development of drug testing in our country. Did you know that some employers terminate an employee when a drug test turns up a legally prescribed drug that you use for pain relief?
Most of us who are included in a safety-sensitive testing pool in air or ground transportation are certainly aware that a random urine test can get you in trouble when it turns up the classic no-no’s i.e., marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, phencyclidine, (pcp), nonsynthetic opiates, and now recently, as of Oct. 1, 2010, the drug called ecstacy. But we have always considered the use of doctor prescribed drugs to be safe from the testing threat, that is, the laboratory would not be testing for anything other than the stated six drugs in the drug testing protocol and even if they did, prescription drugs would be OK.
It would seem that some workers’ compensation insurance companies will lower the insurance premiums or provide other incentives to companies that have a state drug-free workplace program designed by many states to reduce workplace injuries. These tests cover a broader list of drugs that includes many commonly prescribed pain remedies for pain and headaches in general.
Although prescription drug testing has not reached the aviation field as yet, there is a strong movement in industry to expand the mandatory drug testing that is in place for transportation (aviation, trains, buses, etc.) and nuclear workers to include some legal prescription drugs. Employers in these safety-sensitive industries would be left to decide which synthetic opiates or other commonly used legal drugs they would test for. Also, we must keep in mind that pilots are required to divulge all drugs, including prescription drugs and over the counter drugs on their medical exam form. If they don’t they can suffer severe results including loss of their pilot certificate and medical certification.
This concern is no surprise considering the broad liability of employers for industrial accidents or product defects and workplace injuries that involve the abuse of prescription drugs.