Drug-Related Accidents

The issue of drug and substance abuse is one of the contributors to maritime accidents in the U.S., according to Marine Insight. Drug use can cause an employee to exhibit erratic behavior, which can lead to ship-related accidents. It can also slow the response time of a worker. Human error can cause a delayed reaction that results in injuries, disabilities, or fatalities involving the individual or other crew members.

Legal Requirements for Drug and Alcohol Testing

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) oversees testing on many levels. For drug testing on maritime vessels, the United States Coast Guard is assigned as the authority to oversee testing of covered employees. Employers may conduct pre-employment, periodic, or random drug testing or do so if they have reasonable cause an employee may be under the influence. Some test as a follow-up, or following a serious accident or when a worker returns to duty.

As defined by the DOT, a serious marine incident warranting testing includes:

  • An accident or marine casualty reported to the Coast Guard.
  • Death, or an injury to a crew member or passenger that requires professional medical care.
  • An incident that prevents someone from performing routine duties.
  • Property damage more than $100,000.
  • The release of 10,000 gallons of oil or more in navigable U.S. waters.
  • Total loss of a self-propelled vessel weighing 100 gross tons or more.

The DOT also recommends that marine employers have a written policy regarding drug and alcohol test procedures, and a program that details how the employer complies with federal regulations. Programs should include procedures for collecting specimens, a designated accredited laboratory, the types of drugs to be tested for, and under what circumstances employees are tested. Aside from alcohol, common drugs to look for include cocaine, opiates, marijuana, amphetamines, and phencyclidine.

Per the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1998, alcohol testing is mandatory with two hours of an incident. Written documents should indicate how and where tests are done, name a qualified DOT collector and, in the case of alcohol, cover a breath or blood test. For most other drugs, tests do not have to take place within two hours of the incident but should be performed within 24 hours. Urine specimens can only be subject to a DOT 5-panel test; blood testing is not accepted for drugs under the law.

Handling a Positive Test Result

Maritime law requires employers to keep records of drug testing if they test positive or refuse to comply with a test. Procedures for dealing with a violation need to be documented, and employers are required to follow up with individuals who use substances that can put themselves and others in danger. Employers that don’t follow the proper steps may be considered negligent. If injuries or deaths result from an accident connected to this negligence, victims or their surviving dependents can be awarded compensation by the courts.

Drug-related accidents are not only a concern in the United States. It is a problem faced around the world; any maritime work environment can be jeopardized if someone engages in substance abuse and works on a ship.

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