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Drug Use Among Railroad Workers Skyrockets

Various medical and safety groups have been warning about the growing drug use epidemic in the United States for years. Despite the fact that railroad workers are among the most heavily tested of all employees, statistics show that drug abuse continues to rise.  The FRA conducts approximately 50,000 random drug tests each year and had not seen a significant increase in positive results since 2009 until last year when the number rose 43 percent.  According to a recent article by the Washington Post,

“The number of post-accident drug-positives was the highest since the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) began keeping records in 1987 and three times greater than it was 10 years ago.”

Railway employees are drug tested prior to hire, randomly and following any safety error.  In 2014 no railway employee tested positive following a safety accident and only 2 employees tested positive following errors last year.  What is concerning is the 16 railway workers that have tested positive following safety accidents in 2016 and another 256 employees, from engineers to dispatchers, testing positive during random drug screening.

Officials from the FRA, National Transportation Safety Board and the Office of National Drug Control Policy spelled out their concerns and asked the railroads to help them address the growing problem.

“We’ve discussed in depth the kind of data that we are seeing, the uptick in positive post-accident tests, the significant rise in positives in our random testing pool. We are seeing a trend going in the wrong direction, and we must address it immediately.”

The evidence is undeniable.  If workers who know they are subject to random drug screening are testing positive than it is very likely that drug use is on the rise across all industries.

The National Safety Council has been bringing the problem of prescription drug addiction in the U.S. into the spotlight.

In its report, The proactive role employers can take: opioids in the workplace, the NSC lists 6 steps companies can take:

  1. Re-evaluate your company’s drug policy. Prescribed painkiller abuse should be addressed in policies.
  2. Educate employees about the dangers of prescription painkiller use and misuse. Employees should know the risks of taking painkillers while performing safety-sensitive tasks.
  3. Train supervisors so they know about your company’s drug policy, potential signs of employee drug impairment and what they should tell workers about prescription painkillers.
  4. Promote your employee assistance program. Let employees know there is help available.
  5. Address prescription medications in your drug testing program. Testing can show if employees are taking something for which they don’t have a prescription or if they’re taking too much.
  6. Partner with your healthcare and workers’ compensation insurance companies. Consider closed formularies where opioid prescriptions require prior authorization.

The Integrated Group provides guidance on safety program and policy development as well as training. Our goals are to take you beyond compliance without adding an extra burden to your daily routine. For more information, feel free to call at 425-822-8500 or at

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