Post-Accident Testing & Those Not-So Obvious Situations
(November 2020) Real Life Incidents: Working Partners® Consortium members receive free phone support and consultation about drug-free workplace (DFWP) issues – a benefit we term “troubleshooting.” Here is a brief description of a troubleshoot and our response/suggestions.
We received a call from a new Program Administrator, Tara*, who was looking for clarification about a workplace accident involving an office employee who injured her foot while setting up a meeting room for an upcoming marketing presentation. The employee, Cheryl* informed Tara that while arranging tables, one of the folded tables toppled over and landed partially on top of her foot. Cheryl shared that due to the pain of the impact, she had immediately limped back to her desk and sat down. An employee who witnessed the accident had helped Cheryl back to her office and brought ice from the kitchen to apply to her foot.
As Tara worked to assess the situation and get more details regarding the accident, she and Cheryl noticed swelling forming on top of the injured foot. Cheryl stated that she was getting concerned about the injury and thought she should go to urgent care to get it checked out. Tara agreed and asked if she needed assistance getting there. Cheryl declined, stating that since the injury was to her left foot, she was confident she could drive to the facility. Tara helped Cheryl to her car and asked her to provide an update on her condition as soon as it was convenient. Cheryl’s absence was excused for the remainder of the day since there were only two hours left in her shift.
Tara called Working Partners® a week after the accident asking if she should have sent Cheryl for a post-accident test. She said, “It hadn’t crossed my mind before now, but maybe the incident required a post-accident test. I didn’t think of it at the time, since it happened in the office and not out in the field.” Tara was worried that if additional medical treatment became necessary or a worker’s compensation claim was filed, that as a company representative she might not have fulfilled her duty and obligation around reporting and responding to the workplace accident.
When it comes to on-the-job accidents and workplace drug testing, as a Program Administrator, you may be inclined to focus on major incidents involving serious medical injuries or situations with high-dollar damage to vehicles or equipment. You may also be on guard to deal with accidents involving employees working in safety-sensitive positions and those who drive company vehicles or operate equipment, but not so much with office personnel. Do we forget to include them in our DFWP practices and applications?
To help Tara better operationalize her policy, we reviewed some key elements, including:
- Who is covered under her drug-free workplace policy?
- Did the incident meet the definition of an accident as defined by the policy?
- And, according to the policy, did the incident match the criteria necessary for a post-accident test?
We shared with Tara the importance of using her DFWP policy as a basis for the decision to test or not to test. This approach ensures that decisions are made based on elements of the policy versus gut feelings or subjective opinions. It also provides a consistent approach to applying policy and setting appropriate precedents for future actions.
Together with Tara, we reviewed several areas of her company policy, including coverage guidelines and how the company defines terms such as “on-the-job” and “accident.”
During our discussion with Tara, she determined that Cheryl was covered under the policy, considered on-the-job at the time of the accident, and the incident met their definition of an accident. The potentially tricky part of this situation was that the company’s definition of an accident includes a “caused or contributed” clause to be used in determining whether a test should occur. This required Tara to determine if Cheryl “could have caused or contributed” to the table falling on her foot. Upon investigation, it was determined that Cheryl had bumped the folded table as she walked by causing it to fall onto her foot. Therefore, Tara assessed that Cheryl had contributed to the accident and based on the policy, a test was warranted.
However, given that it had been a week since the accident occurred and Tara’s policy stipulated that the drug test should have occurred within 32 hours, Tara deemed it was too late to send Cheryl for a post-accident test. Although Tara missed the mark in this instance, she learned valuable information about administering her employer’s DFWP policy and was better prepared to handle similar future situations. We discussed the need to document the situation, noting the reasons the test did not occur. We also inquired about supervisor training, and after learning it had been a while since their last session, we suggested they consider scheduling a refresher session.
In our follow-up conversation with Tara, we reviewed additional post-accident best practices including the need to:
- Connect post-accident testing policy and operations to accident reporting procedures and be sure to understand all documentation requirements.
- Be aware of any guidelines in the policy that specify how soon testing must occur following an accident.
As a member of Working Partners® Consortium, don’t forget your access to this troubleshooting service. As we advise our members, if it takes more than 10 minutes to figure out, call us for help and be safe, not sorry!
Call Working Partners® Consortium at 614-337-8200 or 866-354-3397.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.