Drug and Alcohol Misuse Threats

In a previous article we noted the coming expansion of the drug and alcohol testing requirements for those working in aviation activities who are defined as performing a safety sensitive work function directly or by contract for a regulated employer. There is little doubt that a large number of workers will be added to the testing pool. The testing business will probably expand by a factor of one-third. We urge all new additions to the testing pool to be aware of the threat to their jobs in the event of detected substance abuse.

Common questions

Already those new workers to be included are asking the same questions that came from the original groups included in testing. Things like … “will I test positive for marijuana if I spend time in a room where it is being smoked …?” The quick answer in the past and now is … it depends. How much time since exposure? How much time in the room? What size room? Generally speaking, casual contact for brief periods of time will not register a positive. But there is a point at which saturation will occur. Before a test, it would be prudent to advise the Medical Review Officer (MRO) and place into the testing record any extenuating circumstances that might affect your test results, such as medications you’re taking. The reason for this record is obvious in order to help explain any deviant test results. But, don’t expect the “I was just in the room” excuse for a positive to fly with the medical review officer. Best to avoid the problem in the first place by leaving the premises when you know smoking is going on. It is not worth the hassle that could occur.

Also, since California and Arizona have passed laws regarding the legal medical use of marijuana, the question frequently is asked … will this legal use under state law provide a legitimate basis for a positive finding of THC (the marijuana metabolite)? The answer is no! This is not and never will be a legitimate reason. The only legitimate reason for a positive finding of THC (marijuana) is a prescription for a drug called marinol.

Another question that comes up is the legal consumption of foods that contain hemp seeds or extracts accounting for finding THC in a test. A medical review officer will never accept an assertion of consumption of a hemp food product as a basis for verifying a marijuana negative test. Don’t bother.

Be advised that these and other novel explanations for a positive finding of marijuana or other prohibited drugs just will not work at all and will get you re-tested and perhaps fired.

A brief review of some of the program elements follows to advise and educate a new group of workers and to remind some original ones as well. Recent inquiries show that testing questions keep coming up. Lets look at some parts of the program.

Keep in mind that the best advice for a professional technician or anybody else that has not to date been included in the testing pool is to become informed about the rules and testing procedures so that one knows where he or she stands from the beginning. If you value your job pay attention.

What events trigger testing?

New people added to the system should be aware that there are six basic events that can trigger testing. Pre-employment is of course the most common; periodic is governed by annual company requirements; random is nothing more than surprise testing; reasonable cause happens when a supervisor thinks you are under the influence of something; return to duty means that testing can occur when you have been away from work for an extended period of time. For example, persons who are hired or return to work after failing a previous drug test, or for other reasons are subject to unannounced drug testing in accord with regulations. Post accident means after any kind of accident that may have been due to, or could have been contributed to, by the presence of a prohibited substance in an individual involved with the accident. Testing is required within 32 hours from the time of the accident and may be conducted at the time of any medical treatment as a result of the accident.

What they test for

If you plan on changing jobs and the new job is included within a testing pool you can count on testing for both alcohol use and the five specified commonly abused drugs.

• Marijuana (pot, grass, etc.)

• Cocaine (snort, crack, powder, etc.)

• Opiates (codeine, heroin, morphine, etc.)

• Phencyclidine (PCP, angel dust, etc.)

• Amphetamines (speed, crank, meth, etc.)

If you are a new hire applicant your application will simply be rejected if you test positive for alcohol or drugs, as noted above. No exceptions.

Once you are on the payroll you fall under the strict permanent disqualification rules. These are extremely important to understand.

If you remember nothing else keep the following FAR section in mind in the event you are tempted to play around with drugs and alcohol on the job.

Permanent disqualification from service
FAR 135, 121, 145 Air Carrier, Contractor and Subcontractor activities:

The Drug Bar:

“An employee who has engaged in prohibited drug use during performance of a safety sensitive function is permanently precluded from performing that safety sensitive function for any employer.” FAR 121 Appendix I, VI, F2

The Alcohol Bar:

“An employee who violates 65.46.a, c, 121.458c, or 135.253c or who engages in alcohol use that violates another alcohol misuse provision of 65.46a, 121.458a, or 135.253c … and had previously engaged in alcohol use that violated …(above provisions) is permanently precluded from performing for an employer the safety sensitive duties the employee performed before such violation.” FAR 121 Appendix J, V, B.

The Drug Bar speaks for itself.

The Alcohol Bar rule means this: If you are found using alcohol on the job, that’s your first bite. If you get caught a second time consuming alcohol on the job you are history in the air carrier business! You can of course work in Part 91 but you cannot work for a certificated air carrier or repair facility in a safety sensitive position.

You might be inclined to say this is pretty harsh stuff. However, it shows the importance of the subject to Congress and the FAA.

Keep in mind that previous alcohol use on the job will follow you to another job. This is the reason that background checks are so important to your employer and why the FAA looks very carefully at company check procedures. Enforcement action will be taken against any company that fails to complete thorough background checks. Heavy fines and in some cases suspension of operating certificates can follow for repeat failure to follow the rules.

Further, you may still “be on duty” even while on your lunch break. There are any number of cases where technicians have been nailed for drinking while at lunch. A lunch break may include breaks at odd hours for shift workers. You may be considered still on the job. Don’t be the one to test the rules. You could lose your means of earning a living in the air carrier or repair business.

Basic rules of conduct

1. No alcohol or drugs while on duty.

2. An employee found with a blood alcohol level of .04 or more cannot remain on duty in a position requiring the performance of a safety sensitive function. Such an employee may be terminated or alternatively be required to be evaluated and treated as a condition of further employment. If found with a level of .020-.039 you will be sent home. If found a second time with a concentration at this level you are subject to termination.

3. In the case of pre-duty use, crewmembers follow the eight-hour rule. They have to wait at least eight hours after consuming alcohol before assuming duties. Technicians and other maintenance people come under a four-hour rule. You must keep in mind also that “on-call” employees who could be called to perform a safety sensitive function are subject to the same pre-duty alcohol prohibition. In the event you consume alcohol within the eight- or four-hour rules you would have to refuse a call to work.

4. No alcohol can be consumed for eight hours after an accident. (Assuming you are involved in some way with the accident via maintenance or operations.) That is, any accident as defined by the NTSB … “an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft with the intention of flight, including the time that all passengers have disembarked, and in which any person suffers death or serious injury, or in which the aircraft receives substantial damage.”

Keep in mind that with the expanded reach of drug and alcohol testing, a safety sensitive function includes just about everyone involved with air carrier activities including those who repair parts in shops contracted to the carrier and their subcontractors. Those that handle parts that are installed on air carrier aircraft may also be included. The final rule to remember is simply to stay away from alcohol and other drugs while performing your safety sensitive jobs. Remember the permanent bar. Read and understand your employer’s Drug and Alcohol Policy and Procedures Manual. Refer to 49 CFR Part 40 and 14 CFR Part 121 App. I & J.

Finally, all are urged to become familiar with the details of the testing program as spelled out in your company manual on the subject. You are expected to know and observe all the rules. Your best source of a quick answer to any questions on the subject is to go to the web site of the FAA Office of Aviation Medicine, Drug Abatement Division, Compliance and Enforcement Branch. Access to the site at FAA.org. In addition, your company drug abatement manager will assist you as well. Drop me a message for other info: aerolaw@att.net. Good luck …