Expanding the Footprint of Pre-Employment Testing
Delivering the "safe and secure employee" could shift the testing market and save money for employers.
- By Jerry Laws
- Apr 01, 2004
Editor's note: Ambassador Medical Services Inc. of Marlton, N.J., a third-party administrator of federally required testing programs, has seen its business shift from 100 percent DOT testing at startup in 1988 to a 40 percent DOT/60 percent non-DOT mix today. The company provides mobile and stationary drug and alcohol test services for employers, unions, contractors, drug courts, and others. Its wide base of about 20,000 customers positioned AMSI to participate in a large access control project that will be rolled out this year. AMSI Vice President James B. Campbell discussed the project Jan. 20 with editors of Occupational Health & Safety. The following excerpts explain the goals and scope of the effort.
James B. Campbell: The end market is not just the DOT. That's only going to be a small portion of the whole market, which is going to be the small-business end of the cycle.
OH&S: That's been growing pretty steadily?
Campbell: Yes, yes, and even more so if we can get more political organizations involved in it. The Department of Homeland Security came out with the national strategy, a statement that Tom Ridge came out with approximately six months ago. He was talking about the security levels at all of these soft targets. DHS is looking to see how they could tighten that up.
They're also looking at what they call hardened targets, such as utilities, refineries, water treatment plants--but they're not, they're not hardened targets as of yet. Try it yourself, try to gain access. Go over a fence. You'll go over many, many fences before you get stopped. They're all soft targets.
We have developed a program that includes a system called ID Views. There's various companies that are putting this together--a management system that is Web-based. Basically, what we're going to do is go in to the unions and say, we can provide a 'safe and secure employee' accessing an owner's facility. We will then do a drug and alcohol test on the individual. We will do some minimum screening application: We'll check for the Social Security number, we'll check for criminal, state and federal. All we're doing is taking the information that the individual gives us and we're verifying that that person is accessible to organizations.
OH&S: By accessible, you mean that person should be allowed in.
Campbell: Yes. And we're basing it on the owner's requirements. What does the owner, for example Merck or ConocoPhillips, what does ConocoPhillips require that an individual employee from ABC company must have before they will allow that person to enter their facility?
OH&S: So it will be a system that's tailorable to any particular employer's desires or guidelines?
Campbell: Yes. They will issue us their requirements lists. These are going to be minimal, but there's going to be drug and alcohol testing--we know that for sure. They're going to be specific to their job title. For example, if it's a trucker, there's going to be a DMV check. Any facility that is going to be servicing the public, producing something for the public, or accessing the public, such as a large commercial building. The World Trade Center, that's a good example. The Empire State Building. All of these are going to have to have tighter security controls. That is what we're offering in one package.
What we're going to be doing is going to the union bases and testing their people. Issuing them photo ID cards. From these photo ID cards we will also be doing a screening process.
An individual from the Carpenters Union, for example, has been told by his business agent to go to the ConocoPhillips facility in Rahway (N.J.). He will go there and they will scan his photo ID card. Up will pop this fellow's particulars--his name, his affiliation with the local--and if he will be accessed or not. There will be a green mark if he's good, there will be a red mark if he's not good. Meaning that, for some area within the system, he is not able to access that particular job site. It could be that he didn't meet a drug test reschedule, or it could mean that he had some serious violation and the screening process knocked him out because of some criminal record or something. But he would be aware (of the reason).
OH&S: Are there levels of access? Could a person access certain areas of a facility, whereas they couldn't go into another area that had, maybe, chemicals they shouldn't have?
Campbell: There's going to be an outer perimeter access. And then comes a second perimeter, third perimeter, you could go on. These people would be coded in. The way it is now, with card systems internal to organizations, they have an intricate process and there are activity areas. You can go from point A to point C with this card. . . . With this, you could code a particular photo ID card and allow that person certain access because the owner's requirements list would broaden as the person would gain more access. That's how it would work. It's going to be up and running, I would say, in this first quarter. We've been working on it for about six to nine months now.
OH&S: Does this broaden the footprint of drug testing or alcohol testing?
Campbell: Yes. The whole concept of 'safe and secure employees' is being applied here. And when you're looking at the drug and alcohol section of a safe and secure employee, it's just one part. The system also could identify credentials that an individual has, such as an OSHA 40 certification or an OSHA 10, or a welding certification. It also does what is called time-in, time-out sequencing. As far as the DHS is concerned, for example, if they're going to have a lockdown at a facility, they want to know how many contract employees are in that facility. And when did they arrive, and how many left? This system can do that almost instantly. You've got an exact timing process. That, the contractor companies are very interested in because that could save them a lot of money. And the owners are very interested.
OH&S: The labor side is not opposed to this at all?
Campbell: No. The union management teams are now beginning to look at ways to entice the owners to use their heavily trained and heavily experienced membership. And the way they want to do that is to look as clean and up front as possible. That's how they're approaching it.
OH&S: I would have thought that would be a hard fight.
Campbell: It has been. We've been fighting this fight for years. It took us a long time to get unions to even trust us. Because whenever we were called in to do drug and alcohol testing, we were called in by the contractor or the owner and we would be testing their members. In the beginning, they wouldn't even talk to us. But now, they're calling us and saying, 'We want you do to pre-membership testing.' We even had one union do hair sampling for a complete apprenticeship group.
OH&S: What was the result?
Campbell: The results were very interesting. Out of approximately 250 applicants, they had a drop-off, a positivity rate, of approximately 9 percent. Now, these people knew, going in, that there was going to be a hair sampling process. They also knew that it was a 90-day lookback. They were well informed. And still we had a 9 percent dropoff.
OH&S: Does DHS have to put out a rule to make this take off? How quickly will they do that?
Campbell: It's going to be done very quickly if we have another terrorist attack. I hope they're working on it now. They keep threatening to issue guidelines. They're asking industry to come up with programs such as the one I'm describing to you.
OH&S: Everybody seems to now buy into the theory that a 'safe and secure employee' has to be a drug-free employee.
Campbell: What is a secure employee? That is an employee who is not going to have any terrorist tendencies, who's not going to injure anybody, blah, blah, blah, blah. A safe employee is also a person who is drug-free. 'Cause if you're drug-free, you have a level of safety that a person who is on drugs doesn't have.
OH&S: But it's been a fairly tough sell to get drug testing into smaller companies. You talked about how your business has grown from the DOT-regulated side into the private side.
Campbell: And the reason we're doing that is because we're testing these small companies as they're entering large owner facilities to do work. That's how we're getting these people. If they didn't have to be tested, they wouldn't be tested because it's an expense.
OH&S: Will the DHS rule mandate that drug testing is part of access?
Campbell: The owners are mandating it. If (DHS) did, they would only rule it at the federal level.
OH&S: So it's a business necessity, not necessarily a regulatory necessity.
Campbell: Oh, yes, definitely. We have an acronym that we're using: Safe Employees Securely Accessed. Basically,we're putting together a whole group of activities that's going to make a secure and safe employee. All of the companies that we're dealing with, they all do drug and alcohol testing. The whole reason they wanted to have a standard access system is so that they could all save money. Rather than test an individual union or non-union member five or six times because he's going to various facilities, why not test him once and then put him on a random schedule? We would end up with maybe two tests or maybe one test that would apply to that person over a given year, as opposed to five or six or seven. They all love that.
The insurance companies are seriously looking at these systems because they're looking at ways of reducing their workman's comp cases going out the door. If they could bring in a safe and secure employee, they're going to be bringing in somebody who's less likely to get injured on the job.
The whole thing is evolving as a safety issue and a secure employee issue. Drug and alcohol is part of it, but it's becoming embedded into a whole different mix.
OH&S: Basically, you're pushing the employers' cost to the front end of the process, the pre-employment end of the process. And that, I assume, boosts the overall usage of pre-employment drug and alcohol screening significantly. It's a lot reasonable cause (testing), it's a lot random now; but to get it more pre-employment is . . .
Campbell: . . . a major element. And not only that, we are substantiating the reasons why. The reasons why are not only so that the person is drug-free. Now, there are multiple reasons: Number one, the person is drug-free and alcohol-free. Number two, the person is not going to be violating the PATRIOT Act. Number three, the individual is clear of any state and federal problems. And you go on and on and on. You're gleaning out the people you don't want.
We want to show companies . . . that they must harden their facilities. And the first way to do it is to go through an employee screening process.
This article originally appeared in the April 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.