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Mar 05 Written by 

Six Reasons When To Drug Screen Pipeline Employees

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There are specific reasons when to drug screen pipeline employees. Every employer subject to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) drug testing regulations should know these by heart. 

Are your business and employees covered under the DOT/PHMSA drug program regulations?

The DOT and PHMSA drug and alcohol program regulations apply to employers and employees who perform safety-sensitive duties. 

As an operator, if you perform any of these duties within the U.S., then the DOT/PHMSA drug program regulations apply to you:

  • Transport natural or other gas by pipeline (excluding only petroleum gas or petroleum gas/air mixture)
  • Transport hazardous liquids by pipeline
  • Work on a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) facility

Here are the six reasons when to drug screen pipeline employees:

The terms 'drug screen' and 'drug test' have different technical definitions. For this article, they are the same process. 


A pre-employment drug screen should occur before hire. When an employee transfers to a safety-sensitive position, they should also undergo a pre-employment drug test. Pre-employment alcohol screening is optional.


The PHMSA publishes the minimum random testing rates before the calendar year. For example, if the minimum random testing rates are 25%, then at least 25% of your staff should complete a random drug screen for the year. If you're enrolled in a consortium, the consortium must meet the minimum random testing rate. Random alcohol testing is not required under the PHMSA. As a best practice, don't give employees any prior notice for random drug screens and spread them throughout the year. 


The PHMSA has specific requirements on what qualifies as an accident. Here are the general definitions of accidents that require a drug and alcohol test:

  • Death of an individual
  • Hospitalization of an individual
  • Property damage of $50k or more
  • Emergency shutdown
  • Operator judgement
  • Explosion
  • Fire
  • Gas loss 

A PHMSA qualified accident requires employees who may have contributed to the accident to complete a drug and alcohol test. For a detailed description of PHMSA accidents, read 49 CFR Part 199

Reasonable Cause/Suspicion Testing

A reasonable suspicion drug test occurs when a supervisor has determined that an employee is showing signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse. For a supervisor to make these determinations, they must undergo training. It's recommended for supervisors to undergo at least 60 minutes of alcohol training and 60 minutes of drug training to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse. 


A return-to-duty drug and/or alcohol test occurs after an employee has tested positive, refused, or had a drug or alcohol violation. First, the employee must have a face-to-face evaluation from a qualified Substance Abuse Professional (SAP). Then, a covered employee must undergo a return-to-duty drug and/or alcohol test to return to safety-sensitive duties.


Following a return-to-duty drug and/or alcohol test, an employee must (at least) have six unannounced follow-up tests within the first 12 months. Follow-up testing is subject to the Substance Abuse Professional's recommendations.  

There you have it. Many pipeline employers believe that the PHMSA requires annual testing but, this isn't true. Major pipeline operators require their contractor's employees to complete an annual drug and alcohol test. An annual test should occur under non-DOT procedures and guidelines. Also, any reasons not included in this list should be non-DOT.

24521 Last modified on Thursday, 04 January 2018
Hagen DeRouen

Co-founder & CEO at Screensoft. 10+ years of experience with employment screening program management and guidance. Certifications including FCRA basic, MRO assistant, and professional collector trainer.