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Schneider National touts hair sample drug test

Schneider executives say the government currently allows hair testing but doesn't officially recognize it. Hair testing has its limits — It may not detect recent drug use, and it may register false positives.

The Associated Press

7/31/2012

MILWAUKEE — Schneider National Inc. has begun using hair samples to test potential employees for drugs, a process the Green Bay trucking company says does a better job of catching chronic drug abusers.

The company is now asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to approve hair testing and allow test results to be shared between trucking firms.

In the last four years, some 38,000 Schneider applicants had their hair tested for evidence of drug use. Of those, 1,411 failed the test. Yet more than 90 percent of those who failed were able to pass a urine test, the government-mandated industry standard, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report.

"The urine-based drug test is simply not catching chronic drug users," said Don Osterberg, Schneider's senior vice president of safety and security. Molecules of drugs, such as methamphetamine and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can stay bound in hair for months, whereas they only remain in urine for a few days.

So trucking companies like Schneider and Marshfield's Roehl Transport Inc. have added hair analyses to their screening process.

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Schneider executives say the government currently allows hair testing but doesn't officially recognize it. Hair testing has its limits — It may not detect recent drug use, and it may register false positives for applicants who were in the same room as someone who was smoking drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In Wisconsin, hair testing hasn't been accepted by the state Labor and Industry Review Commission, which decides appeals in work-related cases.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it's studying testing methods beyond urine testing, but it has said testing hair and other specimens raise significant issues that may take more time to resolve.

Even without a federal stamp of approval, hair testing has become more popular with trucking companies because it's more difficult to cheat.

"It's a deterrent," said John Spiros, vice president of safety and claims management at Roehl, which began testing hair a year ago. "When people know that you're doing hair-follicle testing, a lot of them won't even apply."

Gordon Klemp, the managing partner of a firm that studies wages in the trucking industry, estimates that 6 percent to 8 percent of driver applicants use drugs. He says hair testing is a good idea, because hiring someone who uses drugs is "a risk that carriers simply can't take."

The risk, from a business standpoint, arises if a drug-impaired driver is involved in an accident that kills or injures someone.

The trucking industry has already notched one victory in Congress relating to drug testing. Lawmakers recently ordered the Transportation Department to establish a national database tracking drivers' positive results on drug and alcohol tests. However, the database will only show the results of urine tests.

Schneider will encourage the Transportation Department to include hair test results, Osterberg said.

The American Trucking Associations, the industry's main lobbying group, agrees. However, organization spokeswoman Abigail Potter acknowledged that that probably won't happen without further congressional intervention.

Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at kevinj@thetrucker.com.

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