When required to submit for a drug test, the donor will go to an approved collection site for the test either at a lab patient service center, occupational or urgent healthcare clinic or approved third-party collection site. The collectors are well trained on how to handle DOT specimens and most go as planned. However, there is always room for improvement. Here is a list of the most common errors that can happen at the collection site that you as an employer need to know as they may delay or even cancel your drug test.
1. Forgetting to mark the temperature on the form: It’s a small box that asks, “Is the temperature between 90-100 degrees?” Important information to know since if the specimen is not at the correct temperature, it could mean the donor was trying to tamper with the specimen and therefore it is not a valid test. Since the box is small, it’s easy to miss, but frequently happens when the collector is in a hurry to collect the specimen. However, this is a correctable error if the collector responds to an affidavit from the lab or the MRO office and verifies if the specimen was in range or not.
2. Incomplete information on the DOT drug testing form: While DOT has approved the use of electronic forms which technically should have all the required information on the form, we still have a long way to go before all labs and collection sites can embrace this new process. Most tests as of this date are still done on a 5-part paper federal custody and control form, also known as, a “COC” or chain of custody. The form is supposed to have complete information including the employer’s name, an address, the designated employer representative’s (DER) name, and phone number and full name and address of the MRO, the collection site on the form, and instructions from the employer including, the mode of DOT (i.e., FMCSA), the reason for the test and whether the test needs to be observed. In the ideal world, the collection sites are either given or the donor brings in a pre-printed form with all the necessary information already there. In some cases, there are gaps, either the collection site is left blank on purpose so the donor can use the closest site available, or the employer’s name may be omitted if there are multiple employers who are under the same testing program. Ironically, it’s up to the EMPLOYER to make sure all the necessary information is provided to the collector at the time of the test. Again, not having all the information available will not necessarily cancel the test, but it can delay it for days until the information is corrected. Note: the newest version of the DOT forms is required to be used starting August 30th, 2021.
3. The collector has the donor initial the security seals while they are still on the COC form. This is considered a “minimal” error meaning it won’t cancel the test and has no bearing on the outcome, but because it does not follow the required procedures as outlined in the DOT specimen collection guidelines can be considered an error by DOT inspectors. Again, this error is usually just a bad habit of having the donor initial the specimen security seals while they are still on the COC form which is frankly easier rather than waiting until the seals have adhered to the specimen vial and the donor witnesses this and THEN initials the vials. It’s a troublesome habit but easily correctable by retraining the collector on this issue.
4. The collector does not do an observed test when required: Directly observed collections are part of the DOT process but only used when there is a possible attempt to tamper with a test during the testing process or if the MRO suspects tampering was done on a prior test and they are always required for the “return to duty” and “follow-up tests” that follow when an employee returns to work after successfully completing a substance abuse program. In most cases, if the error is not corrected on the same day (i.e., the collector notices their error and has the employer call their employee back for an observed collection), it will mean a re-test is required for the employer and retraining for the collector.
5. The collector does not adequately secure the collection site: When a drug test is done, either DOT or NON-DOT there are housekeeping procedures that help to minimize tampering. Those procedures include making sure there are no tampering products available in the bathroom being used like soaps or cleaners, having the donor empty their pockets, wash their hands and remove outer clothing prior to the collection. The collector also must make sure there is a bluing agent in the tank and bowl of the toilet and that there are no hiding places like wastebaskets, underneath ceiling tiles, drawers, or cabinets where tampering products could be hiding or left behind. The best way for the employer to ensure the security of the site is to have the DER go to the most used site and do a mock collection with the collector to verify these procedures are being done which can deter tampering and cheating on drug tests.
6. The collector forgets to seal the specimens on the vial or forgets to sign the chain of custody form: Unfortunately, either of these errors is considered “fatal” which means they will cancel the test. If the donor doesn’t sign the form or refuses to sign the form, the collector can note this in the remarks section, and it will not cancel the test. However, since the collector is the “witness” per se to the drug testing event, if they forget to both sign and print their name on the chain of custody form it will cancel the test. A collector who prints their name on the form, but then forgets to sign it, is a partial error that can be corrected, but forgetting both will be a fatal flaw. The same holds true for the collector who forgets to put the security seals on the specimen. Most of the time these kinds of errors happen when the collector and/or donor is in a hurry to complete the drug test. The bottom line is when this happens, a retest may be required by the MRO and the collector will need to be retrained on that error.
7. The collector puts the specimen in the wrong lab box for pick-up: As most collection sites will deal with multiple laboratories that do drug testing, this can happen inadvertently as well. Luckily, since all labs seem to have this problem now and then, there is an unwritten “gentlemen’s agreement” to promptly forward the specimen to the correct lab even if it’s a competitor’s laboratory. What this can mean for the employer is that the specimen may be temporarily “lost” for a day or two until it reaches the correct lab for testing, which can delay test results.
8. The collector uses a NON-DOT drug test form when a DOT form should have been done or visa-versa. The DOT regulations clearly state that the DOT federal chain of custody form may only be used for tests which are required by law by the federal government. If a collector inadvertently uses a NON-DOT form when they should have used a DOT form, this will not necessarily cancel the test. This sometimes can happen during an emergency or after-hours collection when a NON-DOT form was the only form available to conduct a drug test or it could have been done in error by the collector. In either case, this error is allowed to be corrected by an affidavit as to why the NON-DOT form was used. However, alternately if a DOT form was used when a NON-DOT test should have been conducted, this test can and should be cancelled as the employer can never imply a drug test, even indirectly that it was required by the Federal government when it was not.
9. The collector excuses the donor from the collection site before the test has been completed: The Federal DOT regulations are cut in stone not written in sand, so the donor, the collector, the MRO, the lab, and the employer does not have the right to modify the rules to best meet their own interests. So, this means, if a donor comes in for a drug test, and then has problems providing a specimen, they are allowed up to a full three hours for their drug test even if the collection site closes earlier. In providing DOT collections, the collection site must accommodate this requirement. In some cases, the collector will “excuse” a donor before they have provided a valid specimen because the donor provides an excuse as to why they must leave before the collection is complete. Again, for both parties as part of the DOT collection process they must also agree to follow the Federal regulations CFR 49.40. Again, this can be a fatal error that can cancel the test or require a retest and the collector will need to be retrained on their error. If, however, the collector correctly instructs the donor not to leave, but they still do, then it is considered a “refusal to test” by the collector which is then reported to the employer.
10. The collector fails to do a Breath Alcohol Test when required: Again, it’s the employer’s responsibility to determine whether a breath alcohol test is needed and inform the collection site either in writing or by calling ahead, but in certain situations, a breath alcohol test is always done. For example, under the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) a breath alcohol test is ALWAYS done in conjunction with a post-accident drug test. Most collectors know this rule and will apply it when a DOT FMCSA post-accident drug test is requested, but since other agencies don’t necessarily require it (i.e., FTA) they rely on the employer to specifically request the breath alcohol test. Ultimately, it is the employer who will be held accountable for their company’s drug-testing program.
What is important in reviewing this list is knowing you have a Third-Party Administrator and/or MRO who will look out for your interests in your company’s drug-testing program and help you troubleshoot these issues.