Amtrak inspector general: company has trouble identifying employee drug, alcohol issues

RELATED TOPICS: PASSENGER | AMTRAK | SAFETY
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WASHINGTON — Amtrak has difficulty in identifying and addressing issues of drug and alcohol use among its employees, “a longstanding challenge for the company,” Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General says in a new report.

The report issued Wednesday summarizes the following issues with the company’s program for employees in “safety-sensitive positions:”

Testing requirements were not consistently followed. Calling company oversight “weak,” the report notes that of 783 locomotive engineers employed between 2014 and 2016, 33 never had an annual drug test, and 448 had fewer than the three required drug tests. This reflects the lack of an “effective procedure for tracking and monitoring” tests to make sure employees were meeting their requirements, the report says.

Testing data was not collected efficiently. Paper forms, rather than a digital record, was used to record testing information; information on some forms was illegible, and others were missing entirely.

— Testing databases were incomplete. Some 107 of 4,943 employees in safety-sensitive positions were not included in the database used to select individuals for random tests. Those employees were, therefore, able to work without being subject to testing.

Many supervisors were not trained on how to detect impairment. Only 45 of 196 supervisors of employees in safety-sensitive positions had completed the company’s had completed the required training on detecting drug and alcohol use.

Oversight of prescription drug use was limited. Employees are supposed to report any use of prescription medicine to Amtrak’s Human Resources department, which then assesses if the medication is “compatible with the duties of each employee.” The Inspector General’s analysis indicated a “significantly low” level of reporting by employees. An HR official noted that “because self-reporting is an inherently weak control, the company has no way of ensuring that all employees reported their prescription drug use.”

The report recommends that Amtrak create a reliable procedure to track drug testing, move to digital record-keeping of testing information, ensure its database includes all employees, establish a system to ensure supervisors are properly trains, and introduce new procedures to encourage employees to report their prescription drug use.

Amtrak’s issues with drug and alcohol use came to the fore in a 2016 accident at Chester, Pa., that killed two employee. In that accident, both maintenance employees who were killed had drugs in their system, as did the engineer operating the locomotive, although the National Transportation Safety Board could not determine if drug use was a factor in the accident [See “NTSB report: ‘Culture of fear’ present at Amtrak for 2016 accident,” Trains News Wire, Nov. 14, 2017].

The complete Inspector General report is available here.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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