Offshore InjuryBlog

Should There be Mandatory Drug Testing for Marine Accidents?

Tragically, marine accidents are an all-too-common incident. In many cases, these accidents are caused by a dangerous weather condition, or by human error such as employer or worker negligence or distraction. Unfortunately, there are also times when these terrible accidents occur because a captain or worker was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

For example, in 1989 an accident known as the Exxon Valdez tragedy occurred because of a worker was under the influence while on his vessel. The ship ran aground in Prince William Sound, resulting in the second largest oil spill in U.S history. Other examples of maritime accidents caused by drugs or alcohol include the Julie N. incident, which occurred when a Liberian tanker rammed into a bridge in Maine and spilled close to 180,000 gallons of oil. This accident resulted in widespread ramifications for the local economy and environment; the cleanup process alone cost approximately $43 million.

Why Isn’t Drug Testing Required for Crew Members Involved in Accidents?

It wasn't until 1998 that the United States gave the Coast Guard the power to administer testing to crew members involved in accidents off of the shore. However, while this law was granted almost 15 years ago, it has not been implemented into Coast Guard operations, apparently due to the fact that the Coast Guard is still confused about the procedure and how they can administer this testing. As a result, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) decided to voice their opinion about marine drug and alcohol testing. They hope that their vocalization regarding this issue may be enough to convince the government to make the testing an important mandate.

Drug Testing Would Help Keep Offshore Workers Safe & Accountable

At present, the lack of a proper and outlined procedure for drug and alcohol testing keeps crew members from being tested for these possibilities on a regular basis. Accidents that may be the direct result of an intoxicated or high crew member are not diagnosed due to the fact that the testing was never completed. The NTSB states that there have been 27 situations since 1989 where the failure of drug and alcohol testing to be properly administered directly affected the investigation of an offshore injury claim.

Recommendations from the National Transportation & Safety Board

The National Transportation and Safety Board has recently suggested that all alcohol testing should be performed over drug testing since the effects of alcohol dissipate before the effects of drugs. In addition, the NTSB suggests that the Coast Guard and other officials should review past incidents where drug and alcohol testing was not properly handled in order to learn more about how these procedures should be conducted. The board wants officials to create guidelines for the U.S. Coast Guard requiring them to conduct testing within two hours of any serious marine accident in cases where the employer will not perform or cannot perform a test without assistance.

The NTSB also suggests that new laws should state that blood and breath testing will be used for alcohol detection and urine tests will be used to determine whether illicit drugs were involved. As well, new procedures outlined by the NTSB would make it clear that all alcohol testing must begin within two hours of any accident and drug testing should begin within four hours of the accident. If all tests are not completed within eight hours of the accident then the testing should be withheld.

It should also be mandated that any mariners who are being tested refrain from consuming alcohol for eight hours after the accident just in case more tests are needed. Any vessels that are in U.S. waters should have an alcohol and drug testing kit on board the boat for this purpose, and the Coast Guard should be permitted to perform such tests if the employer does not wish to or cannot do so.

According to recommendations from the NTSB, even foreign vessels should be required to have the test onboard as long as they are within United States waters. The NTSB wants to outline how ships will determine who is in charge of testing and where collected samples will be kept. With all of these provisions in place, the NTSB believes that there would be more safety for those involved in offshore accidents and that those who are under the influence could be punished accordingly.

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