By Assistant President John Previsich

We all know that drug and alcohol use can have a negative impact on users, fellow employees and the transportation industry.

That said, it must be emphasized that SMART members are to be commended for setting a compliance standard that places our airline, bus and rail members as leaders, second to none, in striving to achieve the drug and alcohol-free workplace that is essential to the safe and effective operation of our nation’s trains, planes and buses.

Data show that our members take very seriously the responsibilities of their employment – the incident-free transport of passengers and freight and the safety of co-workers and the public with whom we interact on a daily basis.

We do, however, see occasional spikes that are cause for concern. Although infrequent, our attention is too often drawn to the needs of a member who has failed a drug or alcohol test or who is in need of assistance due to personal struggles with substance abuse.

Sometimes it is an experienced worker who made an error in judgment. Other times, it is a newly hired employee who may be coping with personal issues. Longer term employees may remember a time, just like in society as a whole, that tolerances were different than they are today. But society has moved on, and so has our industry. There is no place in today’s transportation business for drug or alcohol use in violation of federal regulations or company policy.

We are all aware of the challenges we face daily — from unpredictable work requirements and unscheduled (or non-existent) off-days to being on-call 24/7. The ability to balance work and off time can be difficult, at best, if not downright impossible at times.

Poorly conceived availability policies often put pressure on employees to report for service at times they shouldn’t, and the absence of meaningful RedBlock-type programs on many carriers leave the employee who received the surprise call no choice but to report for service or be disciplined for laying off on the call. The industry needs to change and you can rest assured that your union is doing everything to promote that change in the quickest way possible, both at the local and national levels.

Our message to members who decide to experiment casually with illegal use of drugs, or with alcohol or legal use of drugs in a manner that conflicts with the requirements of their employment is one word – DON’T!

For a member who struggles with compliance, we strongly encourage you seek help immediately. Dependency is a medical issue and there are many avenues available to you. From utilization of your health plan for professional assistance, to family, friends, church and co-workers, help is just a phone call away. Please make that call now – the safety of you and your co-workers, your job and even the economic security of your family depends on it.

We know all too well that alcohol consumption and drug use can imperil our jobs.

But how about off the job; and how about family members?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports more than 600,000 emergency room visits annually due to alcohol or drug problems; and that count represents but one-third of all misuse of alcohol or drugs.

In the long term, alcohol abuse can lead to:

  • Liver, heart and brain damage; and severe over indulgence of alcohol can induce dementia or other mental illness.
  • Bad judgment, poor coordination, blackouts, loss of memory, nausea, hangovers, headaches, coma and suicide.
  • Birth defects, including learning disabilities. That is why pregnant women are warned not to consume alcohol during pregnancies.

Be aware that 40 percent of alcoholism is related to genetics and is inherited.

Note the warning signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse:

  • Craving alcohol
  • Drinking alone
  • Inability to reduce or stop drinking
  • Hiding alcohol in secret places
  • Violent episodes or becoming angry when confronted about drinking habits
  • Sleeping for long periods of time
  • Feeling anxious in social situations and experiencing feelings of guilt
  • Poor eating habits

You and/or your family members can get help in treating alcohol and drug abuse.

United Behavioral Health offers 24-hour confidential telephone counseling at (866) 850-6212, and the website can provide you with more information on alcohol and drug abuse.

And keep in mind that those in safety sensitive transportation jobs face a good likelihood of being randomly tested for alcohol and drug use:

The U.S. Department of Transportation set the following test rates for 2011:

  • For bus drivers, the random drug testing rate is 50 percent; and the random alcohol testing rate is 10 percent.
  • For airline workers, the random drug testing rate is 25 percent; and the random alcohol testing rate is 10 percent.
  • For rail workers, the random drug testing rate is 25 percent; and the random alcohol testing rate is 10 percent.
  • For transit workers, the random drug testing rate is 25 percent; and the random alcohol testing rate is 10 percent.