Direct-observation collection required in certain circumstances

By Adam Hall, C-SAPA
Beacon Occupational Health and Safety Services Inc.

Drug testing is a staple for most companies. Throughout Alaska, employers implement some form of drug testing policy. It is not uncommon for companies to have multiple policies their employees must adhere to, but this is largely dictated by the type of employees a company has or the type of work being performed.

In addition to having multiple policies, companies may also implement alternative testing methods such as hair testing or oral fluid testing. While these methods have grown in popularity in the drug-testing industry, urine testing continues to be the industry standard for both federally regulated employees and non-federally regulated employees.

When a company chooses to use urine tests for its drug testing program, regardless of employee type, employers will likely encounter a direct-observation collection. It is important that employers understand what a direct-observation collection is and when this process is used.

Like other aspects of drug testing, the Department of Transportation (DOT) sets the standard for all situations. When it comes to direct-observation collections, the DOT clearly outlines the requirements for this process and when it is required for a collection to be performed under direct observation. While it is possible for employers to deviate from these requirements for their nonregulated staff, most companies will mirror the requirements put in place by the DOT.

What is direct observation?

Direct-observation is the process in which an observer will witness the urine pass from the donor’s body into the collection container. Additionally, for a DOT direct obser-vation the donor must raise his or her shirt or blouse to just above the navel, lower the pants and underpants to midthigh and complete a full rotation in view of the observer to ensure a substitution or adulteration device is not being hidden by the donor.

Once a donor completes this rotation, he or she may return clothing to its original state as long as the observer can continue to observe the urine pass from the donor’s body into the container. The observer is required to be the same gender as the donor. If a collector is not the same gender as the donor, the collector must instruct the observer on how the observation process is completed.

When is direct observation required?

Direct observation collections occur under specific circumstances. Nonregulated employees may be held to a different standard, likely outlined in company policy. For DOT-covered employees, direct observation can only occur under the following circumstances: if an employee attempts to tamper with his or her specimen at the collection site, the specimen temperature is outside the acceptable range, the specimen shows signs of adulteration, a substitution or adulteration device is discovered by the collector before the initial collection, a medical review officer orders the direct observation, or the reason for the test is follow-up or return-to-duty. Under DOT regulations, direct-observation collections are not authorized for any other reason.

Some may consider a direct-observation collection an invasion of privacy, but it is the goal of the DOT and service agents to protect the integrity of the collection process. Without having a direct-observation policy, it may be easy for an employee to substitute or adulterate his or her specimen.

Companies performing DOT-covered work are subject to direct-observation procedures when required, and it is best practice for companies with nonregulated testing programs to implement a similar policy to ensure that the drug testing program is held to the highest standards.