A move by the trucking industry to use hair follicle samples to screen prospective drivers for drug use could reduce an already-inadequate driver pool by up to 15 percent, a driver compensation expert said.
Speaking Friday on a conference call hosted by investment firm Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., Gordon Klemp, president of the National Transportation Institute (NTI), said several carriers that have implemented hair follicle tests are discovering that more than 10 percent of otherwise attractive applicants flunk the test even if they pass the standard urinalysis-based screen, according to a research note from the firm.
The test costs about $150 to administer, an amount Klemp said companies may see as money well spent because hair follicle-based tests can detect drug usage that has taken place over a longer period of time than can federally mandated urine testing.
The move comes as the trucking industry struggles with a lack of qualified drivers, most notably in the Midwest and Northeast. The driver pool is expected to be further reduced by between 5 and 10 percent by the ongoing implementation of CSA 2010, a federal government program designed to monitor carrier and driver performance and winnow out potentially unsafe drivers.
Roughly 25 percent of the driver work force has exited the industry during the past 10 years as a result of demographic and health issues, Klemp said. The NTI, which Klemp founded 16 years ago, conducts periodic studies of truck driver availability, compensation, and turnover, among other topics.
Hair testing gains luster
C.R. England, a Salt Lake City-based truckload carrier, is one trucker that requires a hair sample from job applicants as part of its pre-employment screening process. Working with Omega Laboratories Inc., England conducted both tests on applicants over the course of a year. During the trial, more than 11 percent of job candidates tested positive for drug use, compared with 2.8 percent with the standard urine testing mandated by the Department of Transportation (DOT).
"With hair testing, we are able to detect months of time rather than the handful of days checked with standard urine tests," said Dustin England, vice president of safety and compliance, in a statement. "We found our hair testing positive rate was over three times higher than the required DOT urine test alone."
The result, England said, is that the company will be able to keep more potentially dangerous drivers off the roads. "That is why we are now firm believers in the benefits of hair testing for the transportation industry." The carrier says it will continue to conduct urine drug testing as required by law.