What is an FTA Drug and Alcohol Compliance Audit?

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5 September 2023

What is an FTA Drug and Alcohol Compliance Audit?

A Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Drug and Alcohol Compliance Audit is a formal review to ensure that your company or organization is compliant with federal regulations.

What The Audit Verifies

The audit verifies several things, including the following:

  1. Your program is compliant with Department of Transportation (DOT) drug testing and alcohol testing regulations.
  2. Your organization is following your own DOT related company policies.
  3. Service agents and program personnel have carried out their responsibilities in an appropriate manner.
  4. Your employees and supervisors have been provided with the appropriate training.
  5. Any employees who committed violations were removed from duty.
  6. All necessary documentation has been maintained.

Other Audits That May Be Required

Although the DOT audits all companies under their auspices, other state, municipal or contractual audits may be required. Other DOT agencies that conduct audits include the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA), Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Federal Railroad Authority (FRA), and the United States Coast Guard (USCG). If employers fall under multiple DOT agencies, it is important to be aware of the rules associated with each agency, and which employees are covered under the respective regulations. Although each DOT agency has its own regulations that must be followed, all federal auditors will review the company's safety performance, confirm proper record keeping is in place, and ensure that all key members of your organization are up to speed on the implementation of a successful drug and alcohol testing program.

When An Audit Occurs

Although audits are not regularly scheduled, notice will be provided from the FTA in Washington, DC about six weeks prior to the audit start date. Audits may also occur after a reported violation if the post-incident testing review determines that an audit of drug and alcohol testing procedures and records is required.

While making sure that your company is complying with regulations, the auditor will also review all test results including all post-accident and reasonable cause tests, positive tests, and refusal to test records. Any documentation related to employer facilitated return-to-duty programs is also required, including correspondence with substance abuse professionals. Typically, the employer will be given a period of time to correct any violations that are discovered during the audit.

Preparing For An Audit

Many companies perform a simulated audit in order to better prepare their teams for the real thing and streamline the information gathering process. This can be done internally or by a contracted third-party administrator that specializes in this line of work.

There are several publications to assist you with your internal procedures that can be downloaded from the FTA Office of Safety and Security website at http://transitsafety.volpe.dot.gov/Publications/. Of particular note is the Best Practices Manual: FTA Drug and Alcohol Testing Program, October 2009. In addition, example questions that are asked during an audit can be found at https://transit-safety.fta.dot.gov/DrugAndAlcohol/TechnicalAssistance/AuditQuestions/default.aspx.

Most Common Audit Violations

The Department of Transportation has provided an example of the most common audit violation under each review category:

  1. Policy
    Many organizations assume that 0.02% is the lower threshold for alcohol violations but DOT regulations are set at 0.04% or above.
  2. Program manager interview
    Employers have not provided training consistent with regulations – section 655.14(b)
    The 60-minutes of training required by the FTA must focus on the consequences of prohibited drug use as it relates to personal health, safety, and the work environment, and on the signs and symptoms of prohibited drug use. Any additional training is at the discretion of the employer and extra to this mandatory requirement.
  3. Records
    Requests for information regarding previous employment must be made directly to the applicant rather than the previous employer.
  4. Breath Alcohol Testing
    Should a printer malfunction while printing the breath alcohol testing results, it is considered a non-test. Handwritten summaries will not be accepted.
  5. Urine Collection
    If a specimen is considered suspicious, a second specimen should be collected under direct observation, and both specimens sent to the lab for analysis. If the employee refuses to provide the second directly observed specimen, the original suspicious specimen is no longer admissible and must be discarded.

Responsibility For Compliance And Completion

Whether your company manages your DOT drug and alcohol testing program or you hire a qualified service provider to do this on your behalf, as an employer, you are responsible for compliance to the regulations and the results of the audit. In other words, if the service agent fails to comply with DOT rules, the DOT can take action against you. Service agents who make serious violations of DOT regulations may be prohibited from working for DOT employers as part of a public interest exclusion policy. Remember, private consultants do not speak on behalf of the FTA.

The audit is complete once the FTA audit team formally present their findings, including any necessary corrective actions. The package will include a cover letter on FTA letterhead, a final audit report, and how to best respond to any issues. Although a drug and alcohol audit may seem intimidating, a good report starts with preparation, a sound understanding of federal policies, and the implementation of a vigorous drug and alcohol testing program within your company.