USCG cuts crew drug testing rate in half

WASHINGTON – With a few kind words for the marine industry, the Coast Guard lowered random drug testing of crewmembers from 50 to 25 percent annually.

The new standard for 2013 is the result of two consecutive years of positive tests below 1 percent, the Coast Guard said. The rate was 0.77 percent in 2011 and 0.74 percent in 2010.

“The Coast Guard commends marine employers and mariners for their efforts to create a drug-free workplace and encourages marine employers and drug testing service providers to continue to submit accurate, complete and timely” data, the agency said in a Federal Register notice published this week.

The Passenger Vessel Association, which had pushed for the change, said the move would lower operators’ costs.

“This action is a breath of fresh air at a time when regulatory burdens on small business are becoming unbearable,” PVA president Paul Belforti said in a statement. “PVA will continue to work for more regulatory relief in other areas as appropriate.”

In its comments on the proposal last year, PVA cited Small Business Administration statistics that show the cost of meeting federal regulations is more than $10,000 per employee. “Rest assured that easing these regulatory requirements will not change the industry’s commitment to establishing drug-free workplaces,” PVA said.

 Horizon Lines Inc. also noted the deterrence to drug abuse would be the same if the testing rate were cut. Such a reduction “would save industry an enormous amount of money at a time when the industry needs all the economic help it can get and would be less intrusive on the mariners themselves,” the company said.

In issuing the new guidelines, the Coast Guard warned it would continue monitoring the rate of positive tests and the quality of the data submitted. And if the rate rises or the data is subpar, then the commandant may raise the minimum back to 50 percent.

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