A secure online database, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse gives the FCMSA, employers, state driver licensing agencies (SDLA), and state law enforcement officers real-time information about commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders’ drug and alcohol program violations. Active since January 2020, many questions about the Clearinghouse remain, including the registration process, running queries, and understanding company vs. driver responsibilities in the database. In their presentation at the June 15 ISRI Safety & Environmental Council (ISEC) meeting, Michael Kennedy, executive vice president of operations and investigations at Empire Consulting; Melissa Frangiosa, fleet safety director at Schnitzer Steel; and Rey Marin, director of national logistics at United Scrap Metal, shed light on the Clearinghouse—why it’s important, how it works, and how companies can utilize it.
The Clearinghouse is set up for companies to learn about possible violations of the FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing program by drivers. Prior to its creation, companies relied on a paper chain to learn about potential hires’ drug and alcohol testing histories. “People would call previous employers and ask if an individual had violated the drug and alcohol testing with their company,” Kennedy explains. Making the records electronic simplifies things and, ideally, keeps a driver with violations from getting fired by one company and driving for a different one.
Kennedy has witnessed confusion surrounding queries or searches of the database, including when and which type to run. Companies query all new hires to learn of possible violations, and run annual queries on all drivers. Purchased in advance, companies first run a limited query to determine whether a new hire has had any violations. Limited queries require only a general driver consent, which is obtained outside the Clearinghouse. The company will need to run a full query if the limited query has information about a possible violation. This requires the company to obtain the driver’s electronic consent in the Clearinghouse prior to the release of detailed violation information. Companies should encourage their drivers to log on and sign the consent form to avoid violation and risking their ability to drive. For a limited query, the company can start with a paper consent form, but Kennedy recommends that drivers should eventually enter their own information in the Clearinghouse and sign the electronic consent.
Kennedy’s seen situations in the Clearinghouse where an individual signing up for the company doesn’t have their employer’s DOT number. “Then you try logging on to the FMCSA portal [to get the DOT number] and you don’t have your password, then it backs you out [of the webpage] and you’re back to square one,” Kennedy says. In his experience, this can cause frustration and delay registration. In such cases, Kennedy works with a point person at the company who has the DOT information or recommends the company register without the number and enter it later. “It’s made onboarding a lot faster,” he says.
Frangiosa and Marin have several recommendations for employers navigating the Clearinghouse. They suggest creating calendar reminders for when to run queries. “Queries need to be run every year prior to Jan. 5,” Frangiosa says. For each of its locations, Schnitzer Steel created a Clearinghouse cheat sheet. “It explained the Clearinghouse, its purpose, and what we’re going to do pre-hire and annually to make sure we maintain those requirements,” she says. Marin suggests creating a compliance calendar so everyone in your organization knows what to expect and when. “Set [the dates] well in advance so everyone is available at the right times,” he says.
Marin and Frangiosa recommend talking with drivers about the Clearinghouse. “Sit down and talk to your drivers,” Frangiosa says. “Have the conversation that there’s no job hopping, whether you stay with us or go to another organization.” Marin suggests updating policies and education programs to notify drivers of what information will be reported to the Clearinghouse. In addition, schedule annual and weekly meetings including trainings and communications on the FMCSA fleet. Both experts recommend working with drivers to ensure they’re registered and completed the consent form. “Make yourself available to your drivers; let them know you can sit with them and help them register,” Frangiosa says. To get driver buy-in on registration, Marin suggests explaining its potential impact on the company and their livelihoods.
If an employer knows a driver has a drug or alcohol violation, they must report it to the Clearinghouse with supporting documentation. The employer should also remove the driver from performing safety-sensitive functions, and provide a list of substance abuse professionals or SAPs available for the return-to-duty process, Marin says. SAPs must use the Clearinghouse to report specific information about a CDL driver’s return-to-duty (RTD) activities. This information includes the date of completion of the initial SAP assessment, and the date the SAP determines that the driver is eligible for RTD testing.
Marin adds that employers aren’t obligated to continue a driver’s employment following a positive result or refusal to test. Schnitzer Steel, for example, has a no-tolerance policy. “Our top priority is having safe drivers on the road. My top priority is that every one of our drivers who leaves the yard each day will come home at the end of the day,” Frangiosa says.
Until Jan. 6, 2023, when the Clearinghouse will have three years’ worth of data, employers should conduct driver pre-employment checks electronically and through traditional inquiries with previous employers. Once there’s enough data in the Clearinghouse, the pre-hiring process will become much easier. “It’ll be a lot easier on our HR folks,” Frangiosa says. “They can just do a quick query pull and have that information.”
As companies and drivers continue registering and using the Clearinghouse, it will become a strong tool for the recycling industry and others. Frangiosa is interested in more industry alignment on driver qualifications, and views the Clearinghouse as a step in that direction. “It requires everyone to have the same reporting requirements so we’re all on the same line,” she says. With a clearer understanding of how it works and its importance, the Clearinghouse can offer a reliable database for drivers and companies. “The greatest benefit is having a general database where you feel confident that the information is accurate and everyone has access to the same information,” Frangiosa adds.
For more information, contact ISRI’s safety team at email@example.com.