Visit from the drug bus

When your employees drive trucks emblazoned with huge, looping Coca-Cola logos on the sides, you’d better be sure they’re clean and sober.

Any accident with a driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol behind the wheel would be a liability nightmare and an attorney’s dream.

Tim Finnerty, division safety manager for Coca-Cola Bottling Co., understands this. In 1991, the Ohio Department of Transportation instituted mandatory random and post-accident drug testing for drivers of vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds. Eventually, the Akron-based bottling company expanded the reach of its random drug testing policy to all drivers of company-owned vehicles and anyone involved in a work-related injury as a way to cut down on state workers’ compensation premiums.

Even after the company moved to a self-insured program a few years ago, drug testing policies remained in place. Finnerty looks at it as a little ammunition in the event that the company is ever hauled into court to face accusations that one of its employees was under the influence of drugs at the time of an accident.

“Actually, most companies are going beyond what they have to do anymore,” he explains. “It’s very helpful when you get into litigation and a plaintiff’s attorney would like to imply your driver was on something, that you can show immediately after the accident that the person was tested and found to be clean.

“If nothing else, it shows a judge and jury that we’re proactive.”

In the HR white paper study sponsored by SBN and conducted by the Employers Resource Council, 44 percent of respondents said they have pre-employment drug screening programs in place, while only 9 percent test employees randomly. Some of this disparity is due to the different types of businesses taking part in the survey. Another reason may be the sheer expense of putting a drug-testing policy in place.

The cost of testing alone isn’t the problem, but it is made worse by the loss of productivity as employees wait in hospital lobbies for their tests. Those hours add up, especially when there is no foolproof way to make sure your employees aren’t eating lunch or running errands during their time away from the office.

Then there is the concern that employees could use the time away to ingest one of the dozens of products on the market today that will corrupt a drug test.

The cost, complaints and cracks in the system have forced some companies to screen their work force only if the law requires them to do so.

But as the problems are worked out, a new industry is popping up around the concept of mobile drug testing. A quick Internet search finds dozens of companies across the nation offering business owners the opportunity to have the screening done at their workplace rather than sending employees to a nearby lab.

Twinsburg-based Zenza Mobile Medical Service is a local player in this new mobile drug testing and medical services market. Company owner John R. Morris founded the company after running into routine drug-screening headaches at his Tri-Mor Inc. road paving company.

“He was sending guys out, but they’d be gone for three hours,” says Zenza sales manager Tracey Skorman. “They’d stop by home, go to lunch. He didn’t know where they were. He didn’t know what they were doing, and they would come back and say that they were waiting there the whole time.

“It was just really a nightmare to keep track of everybody.”

Bound by state requirements, Morris was forced to put up with the hassles, until he realized the incredible potential for a business that offered mobile drug testing that would take five or 10 minutes per employee instead of the hour or two wasted on a lab visit.

“They just thought of it on a whim,” explains Skorman. “A month later, we had a couple units and we just grew and grew from there.”

Today, Morris has a fleet of seven RVs he sends to businesses across Northeast Ohio. Affectionately referred to by some as the “drug bus,” Zenza also offers other types of medical testing mandated by state law for various industries. The company’s core customer base is in Northeast Ohio, although it is working to establish a presence in Columbus.

The mobile concept is fairly simple. For random-testing programs, Zenza receives a list of employee names and periodically draws a few upon the owner’s request, drives to the company and notifies the employees, who are tested a few minutes later. The whole process takes about 10 minutes per person.

Finnerty’s company is a Zenza customer, and although mobile testing is initially more expensive, he believes it saves money in the long run.

“If you save two hours in wages, you more than compensate the difference in the test,” he says. “Plus, by doing it on site, you have better control of the people that have been picked. They are not going to stop off somewhere on the way to the clinic.”

And, as he points out, the whole concept behind drug testing is to weed out employees who are more likely to have the most absences and who are the biggest legal risks when it comes to workplace accidents. Sometimes, the only indicator that a drug-testing program is successful is the fact that the tests keep coming back negative and the number of workplace accidents drops, something Finnerty says he’s noticed in the nine years his company has had a program in place.

And that is good news for business owners who do not want to end up defending their workers in court.

“If you have a driver involved in an accident, it’s going to cost you major dollars,” he says. “You pay what you have to for the drug tests, but it keeps your employees clean. From a liability standpoint, I think it’s a savings in the long term.” How to reach: Coca-Cola Bottling Company, (800) 221-2653; Zenza, (330) 963-5175

Jim Vickers ([email protected]) is an associate editor at SBN.

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