MSHA Rule Would Require Drug, Alcohol Testing

U.S. miners who perform safety-sensitive jobs and their supervisors will be randomly tested for alcohol, amphetamines, marijuana, and numerous other drugs, except when they are used in accordance with a valid prescription, if MSHA finalizes a rule it proposed today. Mine operators could test for additional drugs beyond the list contained in the rule, which includes barbiturates, benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax, cocaine, methadone, opiates, PCP, and synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids such as hydrocodone, hydromorphine, oxymorphone, and oxycodone. Testing would also be required for these substances prior to emloyment; after an accident if the miner may have contributed to the accident, based on reasonable suspicion that a miner has used a prohibited substance, and when miners who have violated the rule return to duty.

The rule says only Kentucky requires miners to be tested for alcohol. There is no much data on the size of the drug and alcohol problem in the U.S. mining sector, although federal and state authorities have held hearings, symposia, and training programs to obtain data. MSHA acknowledged the data gap in the rule but said evidence suggests some fatal incidents have occurred that involved miners who had used alcohol or drugs. The rule also would prohibit possession of alcohol or drugs on mine property and would require mine operators, within a year of the rule's effective date, to implement alcohol- and drug-free mine programs consisting of a written policy, employee education, supervisory training, and referrals to assistance for miners who violate the policy. The proposed rule defines safety-sensitive job duties as "activities where a lapse of critical concentration could result in an accident, serious injury, or death."

Comments are due by Oct. 8. The rule requires mine operators to provide one opportunity for violators to get help and retain their job, but it leaves it to the operator to determine the disciplinary consequences for subsequent violations. MSHA estimates it would cost mine operators about $16 million to comply with the rule in year one and about $13 million to comply each year thereafter.

Current accident investigations do not routinely include an inquiry into the use of alcohol or drugs, according to the rule, which adds, "and this is a failure that the proposed rule intends to address." Visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/E8-20561.htm to read the full text of the rule.

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