In the “Industry Drug and Alcohol Testing Program” section of the FAA website, the FAA explains their reasoning for drug and alcohol testing. They explain, “Drug and alcohol testing of safety-sensitive aviation employees helps protect public safety and keep our skies safe.”
This is sensible enough. If they can establish testing programs that stop employees from working under the influence, they will keep everyone safer.
And the FAA’s justification for their drug testing program relates to all other DOT agencies. In our case here, the FMCSA. The goal of any drug and alcohol testing program is to increase workplace safety.
With DOT-regulated companies, though, the stakes are higher. It is not only the workplace at risk. It is also the community.
For this reason, the DOT, FAA, and FMCSA hold safety-sensitive employees to a higher standard. In fact, all DOT drug and alcohol testing programs center around the safety-sensitive position.
And they require supervisor and employee training along with testing.
The Goal For Today’s Post
So today we will define the safety-sensitive function for both the FAA and FMCSA. Each agency specifies different criteria for what constitutes safety-sensitive duties.
Then we will list out several practical job descriptions and titles that fall under the umbrella of ‘safety-sensitive position.’
Also, the FAA and FMCSA specify when an employee is actually performing safety-sensitive functions. The testing program rules apply to when employees are actually performing safety-sensitive duties and in some cases when they are at their job site.
For example, it is sufficient for a safety-sensitive employee just to be on the premises for there to be a violation.
So practically speaking, you need to know both how the FAA or FMCSA define safety-sensitive position as well as what they constitute as performing a safety-sensitive position.
Let’s get to it then…
DOT Safety-Sensitive Position Definition
The DOT does not actually define safety-sensitive position. They leave that responsibility to each individual agency. What, the DOT delegating?
So both the FAA and FMCSA have different definitions.
And remember, all safety-sensitive employees have to take part in your drug and alcohol testing program. They are also subject to DOT sanctions if caught in violation.
FAA Safety-Sensitive Position
In their definition in 14 CFR Part 120, the FAA lists nine safety-sensitive functions as well as the types of employees subject.
The safety-sensitive functions are as follows:
- Flight crew member duties
- Flight attendant duties
- Aircraft dispatcher duties
- Flight instruction duties
- Aircraft maintenance or preventive maintenance duties
- Ground security coordinator duties
- Aviation screening duties
- Air traffic control duties
- Operations control specialist duties
Of course, any full-time employee who does any of these safety-sensitive duties is subject to the FAA drug and alcohol testing program.
But the FAA explains that it is not just full-time employees that are subject. Assistants, helpers, or individuals in training who take part in the process of performing a safety-sensitive function are also subject to the FAA drug and alcohol testing program.
Also, contract workers are subject to testing.
So full-time, part-time, intermittent, and temporary employees are subject to a testing program. It does not matter whether you supervisor their work.
Basically, any worker touching one of these safety-sensitive duties in their jobs must take part in the program.
So Which Positions Are Safety-Sensitive For The FAA?
While this list is not exhaustive, the following jobs would be considered safety-sensitive:
- Air traffic controllers
- Aviation mechanics
- Flight instructors
- Flight attendants
FMCSA Safety-Sensitive Position Definition
For the FMCSA, all drivers are safety-sensitive employees. The FMCSA defines a safety-sensitive function as:
“…all time from the time a driver begins to work or is required to be in readiness to work until the time he/she is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work.”
To further clarify what their definition means, they then list out the possible safety-sensitive functions:
- Awaiting dispatch at an employer, plant, facility, plant, or basically any property
- Inspecting, servicing, or conditioning any commercial motor vehicle — this includes the inspections required by 49 cfr part 392.7 and 392.8
- Driving a “commercial motor vehicle in operation”
- Riding in a commercial motor vehicle in operation, unless sleeping in a sleeper berth
- Unloading or supervising the unloading of a commercial motor vehicle
- Repairing, awaiting assistance, or waiting for repairs to be made to a disabled vehicle
Just as with the FAA, any time a driver touches any step in the driving and distribution process, they are considered to be working safety-sensitive duties.
So Which Positions Are Safety-Sensitive For The FMCSA?
Again, the list is not exhaustive, but includes:
- Commercial motor vehicle drivers
- Motor vehicle mechanics
- Warehouse worker
What Is Considered “Performing” Safety-Sensitive Functions?
Just like with the safety-sensitive definition, the DOT leaves it up to each agency to explain what it means to be performing a safety-sensitive function.
And remember, when an employee is completing a safety-sensitive function, they are subject to DOT sanctions along with any employer sanctions.
So it is especially important for supervisors to know when employees are subject to testing rules. If supervisors suspect substance use, they need to know whether a drug or alcohol test is warranted. Because if the employee is not performing a safety-sensitive function at the time, the supervisor may not be able to test.
How The FAA And FMCSA Define “Performing”
Both the FMCSA and FAA list out three criteria for what constitutes safety-sensitive position performance.
First, the employee is actually performing a safety-sensitive function. Okay, pretty straightforward.
Second, the employee is ready to perform and simply awaiting the green light actually to perform.
Third, the employee is immediately available to perform a safety-sensitive duty. Meaning, the employee is essentially on call.
If the employee meets any of the criteria, they are performing a safety-sensitive function — even when they are not actually performing a safety-sensitive function…
The FMCSA and FAA each define what constitutes a safety-sensitive position differently.
But each definition revolves around the same theme: any time an employee is in the act of doing anything close to the actual act of driving or flying, that employee is considered to be partaking in safety-sensitive functions.
And the FMCSA and FAA define “performing” a safety-sensitive function the same way, with the same criteria.
The definition of performance is important because in many cases it determines whether a safety-sensitive employee is liable for DOT sanctions and whether a drug or alcohol test is warranted.
So I’ll pose a question to you. Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to be certain of either the definition of a safety-sensitive position or of performance of safety sensitive duties? Let us know in the comments section below.