Our view: Evaluating drug testing

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Moffat County commissioners met with the two natural-gas pipeline companies recently to find out whether they would be willing to ask their subcontractors to drug test employees.

According to Commissioner Darryl Steele, the companies were receptive to the idea. Commissioners can't make drug testing mandatory as part of a conditional use permit, but Steele said commissioners thought it was important to ask for the companies' cooperation in light of the community's battle to stem meth abuse.

Steele is a member of the Communities Overcoming Meth Abuse task force. A couple of weeks ago, Buddy Grinstead, a founding member of C.O.M.A., asked commissioners to look into drug testing the workers who will lay pipe across Moffat County.

That didn't sit well with Shane Kawcak -- owner of a small oilfield service company in Craig -- for two reasons. For one thing, he thinks it reinforces a negative stereotype of roughnecks as "oilfield trash." But more importantly, regulations already are in place to ensure the safety of workers who need to be clear-headed when working around heavy machinery.

"We are contracted by oil or gas companies requesting our service. My company is required to sign master service agreements with these companies before we are able to set foot on a location," Kawcak wrote in a letter to the editor. "Had our sheriff researched this issue, he would have discovered that all of the agreements require that we drug test our employees, not only pre-employment but also random, probable cause and post-accident. All of these tests must meet Department of Transportation requirements -- you must be part of an approved consortium, and all tests are conducted in monitored facility."

On its face, there's nothing wrong with trying to promote the value of drug testing. But Grinstead and the commissioners could have been a little more judicious about how they went about it. Focusing on gas workers -- even if it's just a first step in a broad effort to promote drug testing across all industries-- does send a message that these workers are "suspect." And if they had taken the time to research the issue, they would have discovered that meeting with the gas companies to talk about drug testing was unnecessary.

Grinstead said he wasn't trying to insinuate that local subcontractors could have problem employees, but that he simply wanted to ensure that there was some kind of standard in place for out-of-state contractors who will bring in workers.

"I think they are a group that are at higher risk than most other occupations," Grinstead said. "I think it's general knowledge that those guys work hard and they play hard."

The sheriff is working on a drug-testing policy for his office. "If we're going to be leaders in the arena, we have to be on board with (testing)" he said.

The commissioners also are looking at revising their drug-testing policy for all county workers as a pro-active approach to establishing a "zero tolerance" standard in the community.

We think that's fine, but county officials and community leaders have to understand that making a push to get businesses on board with drug testing has numerous implications.

Some business will recognize drug testing as good business -- as a way to ensure good customer relations. But some small businesses will be hard pressed to cover the costs of testing every employee. We question whether small businesses need to drug test employees. In a small office or store, managers and owners have enough daily interaction to spot signs of drug abuse.

And most companies where safety is an issue have drug-testing policies in place.

So who does that leave? Perhaps C.O.M.A.'s next step should be finding a way to make drug testing more affordable for the companies that think it's a good idea.

They could streamline a valleywide process to mass purchase testing services to reduce costs.

Or they could start offering training on how to spot the signs of meth addiction so employers could take action.

But that raises the question of what the drug testing is supposed to accomplish. Is it to root out problem employees or to help them? With so few rehab and recovery services available, we think it's an important question to ask.

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