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Safety meeting focuses on county employee drug-testing

Mark Fogarty, a representative with the Local Government Insurance Pool, was present at last week’s Johnson County Safety meeting to answer questions about the Tennessee Drug Free Workplace Program. The company provides the county’s workman’s compensation insurance. According to Fogarty, by becoming certified as a drug free workplace the county will be eligible for a five percent savings of around $6000.
County officials have been discussing the program for the past few months, but were hindered by questions of exactly which departments would have to be involved and what specific types of drug testing would be required. According to Fogarty the program involves four specific types of tests, with three being required on all departments and the fourth dependent on the policy that the county adopts.
According to the guidelines of the program all department heads would have to agree to participate and each department would be required to test any new or future hires. Because the county would be able to put a drug free disclaimer on its applications along with posted signs, it is hoped that the program would help filter and prevent employee drug abuse problems from the very beginning.
Also by entering the program, department heads would be required to test any employee involved in an accident or injury. Because the discount is through the workman’s compensation insurance, this is one of the key elements that the company requires. By failing to pass the test after an on-the-job incident, the company assumes that the accident was a direct result of being under the influence of the drug or alcohol. As a result the company then has grounds to deny the compensation claim.
The last mandatory testing is for employees that show suspicious behavior or actions on the job. Department heads can receive training through the insurance company to help them define suspicious behavior and grounds for requiring a test. Following a specific procedure, the department head would then have the employee taken to the testing site to ensure their safety and the county’s liability were not compromised.
These three types of testing are generally accepted by many of the county officials, with several departments, such as the Sheriff’s, already testing after accidents. However, random testing, the fourth type described in the program, has lead to further discussion. According to Fogarty, random testing only has to be performed in safety sensitive areas, a somewhat vague term loosely described in the program’s guidelines.
Ultimately the designation of a safety sensitive job position is up to the individual county’s policy, with some counties in the state requiring all positions to be randomly tested while others only require essential jobs where the employees operate vehicles or carry firearms. Currently all employees with CDL licenses are already randomly tested because of federal Department of Transportation requirements, leading some departments such as the transfer station and the highway department to already be essentially participating in the program.
Once the county determines what jobs are considered safety sensitive, these positions are grouped and sorted by computer, with names being pulled at random to be tested. The county also has the ability to set what percentage of the employees in each group or department is tested each year. Despite the county’s ability to regulate some elements of the program it is this random testing that has given some department heads concern. Despite being asked to attend, only a handful of officials were actually present at the meeting to have their questions answered.
Sheriff Mike Reece, County Mayor Larry Potter, Road Superintendent Tony Jennings, newly elected Property Assessor Matthew Lewis, and EMA Director Jason Blevins were on hand, but there were still several notable absences. The big challenge that the county faces is getting all of the department heads to agree. According to Fogarty, if all officials are not on board then the county will not be eligible for the discount because it undermines the program’s effectiveness.
However, if all of the officials are agreeable to participate then the process of certification would begin with a resolution by the county commission to draw up a county drug free workplace policy. For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.