Salem’s drug-free program working

SALEM — No city employees have tested positive for drugs or alcohol on the job since Salem officials instituted a drug-free workplace program Oct. 1 which includes random testing.

No reasonable suspicion testing has taken place either, meaning no employees have shown signs of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at work.

According to city Auditor Betty Brothers, the updated drug-free policy provides the city with the assurance of a drug-free workplace and safe workplace for employees and also provides the city with a workers’ compensation premium rebate.

“It’s fair,” Deputy Auditor Melissa Hiner said.

Both Brothers and Hiner worked to get the policy upgrade through a program offered by the Columbiana County Port Authority, which administered a grant awarded to the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board aimed at helping businesses and in this case, the city, update drug-free workplace policies or develop new ones.

Brothers explained that the desire to have an updated policy came after a question was asked by the Salem Civil Service Commission on what employees needed to do the pre-employment drug testing. New police officers and firefighters had been submitting to pre-employment drug testing, along with any employees with a commercial driver’s license, but that was it. Once people were in place, there was no drug testing after that. All employees had to sign a form regarding a drug-free workplace, but even with a previous policy in place, there was no testing.

The four unions representing city employees in the fire, police, utiltities and service departments all signed off on the more rigorous and detailed drug-free workplace policy.

“The previous policy wasn’t as thorough,” Brothers said.

Not all employees have to submit to random drug testing, but if there’s a reasonable suspicion that an employee may be impaired and it’s decided they have to be tested, then they must submit to the testing, even if they’re a part-time clerical worker.

Employees who can be randomly selected for testing fall under the category of “safety-sensitive” positions, meaning there’s a safety aspect to what they do or risk associated with equipment they have to operate, such as police officer, firefighter or snow plow driver.

Safety-sensitive positions include dispatchers, firefighters, police officers, street department and traffic & safety personnel, electrician, housing inspectors, zoning personnel, janitor, crossing guards, animal control personnel, sanitarian personnel, health commissioner, parks department personnel, lifeguards, lake attendant, utility department personnel.

Salem Regional Medical Center serves as the collection site for the screening samples for random drug testing and a computer program operated by SRMC randomly selects employees for testing with no prior notice. No one in city government is involved in selecting who gets randomly tested. The samples, in most cases urine, are then sent to a federally-certified lab. For jobs which fall under the Department of Transportation testing for alcohol, a breath test is used.

Since the new policy was started, there have been three random drug tests and two random alcohol tests (through DOT), all with regative results.

Hiner completed eight hours of training for the program. All supervisors, including Brothers, Mayor John Berlin and city Treasurer Dr. John Conrad, received two hours of training by an outside trainer. Hiner did one-hour training sessions for all employees, with 131 employees total going through the training (including Conrad, Berlin and Brothers).

Both Hiner and Brothers acknowledged that the policy written by Working Partners Systems includes sections they hadn’t thought about, such as whether someone can buy alcohol while on their lunch break and keep it in their vehicle to take home later. They can, as long as they’re not wearing clothing with the city insignia or in a city-owned vehicle and the alcohol remains in a sealed container in their vehicle.

Hiner said the policy protects employees, in that if there’s a positive result, they have a chance to go through substance abuse treatment and return to work. If there’s a second positive test, they’re out. The policy also gives them detailed instructions on what to do if they think a co-worker is showing signs of impairment.