Would you take a chance on letting an employee put you out of business? Perhaps jeopardize the financial future of you and your family?

That's exactly what many ginners, and even some farmers, could be doing in the hiring and supervision of truck drivers.

“There is a potentially tremendous liability in these employees,” says Larry Davis, safety director of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association at Memphis, who has been emphasizing the message at recent membership meetings of the organization.

“Some cotton module trucks can haul as much as 59,000 pounds. If you have a driver who's abusing alcohol or drugs and he causes an accident that results in fatalities, your liability could be enormous. It might even put you out of business.”

Marijuana and cocaine are the most seriously-abused substances, he notes. Cocaine can be extremely addictive.

Alcohol can also be a problem. “There are 3 million alcohol-caused job absences in the United States every day. Many commercial truck drivers are also tempted to use stimulants, such as amphetamines, which can make them feel on top of the world one minute, at the bottom of the barrel the next.”

The best way to deal with the problem, Davis says, is through pre-employment and random alcohol/drug screening programs in accordance with Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations.

“If a driver has a commercial license, he or she is required to be in such a program. It's important to comply with these regulations.” Contract drivers also need to be in a random testing program, he says.

Southern Cotton Ginners Association members may enroll commercially licensed drivers in a random program that features a certified lab, which analyzes the samples; a qualified medical review officer who evaluates test results; and a professional safety consultant and trainer who oversees the testing program, as well as the random process.

A contractor who works for the gin on a seasonal basis may enroll his drivers in the SCGA consortium while working for the gin. Programs are available for both full-time and seasonal drivers.

Davis stresses that when hiring new drivers, “it is very important to check their records with previous employers — this could head off problems in the future.”

But, only about one-third of gins had pre-emptive drug screening programs last year.

“We have a person working with us, Betty Burke, who oversees this testing as well as conducting training in CPR and first aid,” Davis says. Programs are available for both full-time drivers and seasonal drivers.

The SCGA started its drug testing program in 1996.

“We've averaged detecting about eight positives for marijuana and/or cocaine each year, resulting in several drivers entering rehab programs. Who knows how many lives may have been saved, or injuries prevented, or lawsuits avoided by these programs?

“If someone is killed and your truck driver was under the influence of drugs, you could face major liability,” Davis says. “It could even put you out of business.”


e-mail: hbrandon@primediabusiness.com.