The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance, with the Office of General Counsel, has recently issued new guidance governing the collection process for substance abuse testing. Collections are sometimes considered a “weak link” in DOT drug testing programs because collectors are usually third parties, making it difficult for employers to monitor and ensure their compliance.

new “Q & A” for 49 CFR Part 40, which will take effect this Monday, July 14, discusses the following issues:

  • When may a collector give an employee permission to leave a collection site?
  • What happens if an employee leaves the collection site before the testing process is complete?

Also, effective July 3, the DOT issued a revised version of its Urine Specimen Collector Guidelines. (The Guidelines’ last update was on October 1, 2010.) Many of the revisions are not substantive (for example, the DOT has provided updated links to websites and removed effective dates that have already passed). Substantive changes, intended mainly to clarify what actions are “required” as opposed to simply “authorized,” are in italics in the new Guidelines.

Following these five tips will help you ensure that your collector is complying with DOT requirements:

  • Use only collectors who can produce a current collector training certificate from a nationally recognized industry association.
  • Make sure that your contract with the collector spells out the terms of your relationship, including procedures that will ensure the integrity of the specimens and the testing process, and an indemnification clause that protects your company in the event of a collector error.
  • Conduct occasional surprise visits to your collection site, and use an audit checklist to catch any errors in site preparation or specimen collection.
  • Make sure that your Medical Review Officer knows to promptly notify you of any collector errors and to order collector retraining when necessary.
  • Periodically engage an independent auditor to test the integrity of your collectors and the processes they follow. In the (hopefully rare) event of serious misconduct – such as a collector’s accepting bribes to ignore positive test results, substitutions, or adulterations – have the auditor gather the evidence that will allow you to make a decision regarding whether to report the collector to the DOT.