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Drug and Alcohol Testing, Part 2: The Collector; A Proud Member of the 47% Club [169]

Updated on October 5, 2012

MOST OF THIS HUB WAS WRITTEN by one of my employees, Ms. Kay Bykirk, an Area Manager from California. In addition to being a specimen collector and Breath Alcohol Technician (BAT) herself, she manages a set of collectors for California region for my company to insure quality of service to our clients and compliance with federal regulations.

Once a year, Alcohol & Drug Testing Services, LLC (ADTS) (plug, plug) holds an annual conference, mainly attended by our railroad clients, where we bring in speakers from various parts of the industry, including the Department of Transportation, to present the latest developments in regulations, problems on the collecting side of the business, information about drug use, and to hear from our clients any concerns they have. Also in attendence are a few of our own employees and independent contractor collectors who did a particularly good job the previous year (did I tell you we often hold this in Las Vegas where our main office is located?) to meet the management of the clients they serve.

At these conferences we present "... of the year" awards, one generally being "collector of the year", which we did have one. This year, however, we had a Collectors of the Year award written by Katy and presented, rather tearfully, by own of our owners and VP, Operations, Mrs. Julie Thoen that was dedicated to all of the specimen collectors and BATs that work on behalf of ADTS. This wonderfully written dedication will comprise the body of this hub and easily stands on its own; I will just have a few more introductory words.

THE POINTY END OF THE SPEAR

THERE ARE THREE PRINCIPAL parts to the drug collection process in the battle to reduce drug (meaning drug and alcohol) use in the workplace. The first is the collection of the sample, be it urine, hair, or oral fluids for drug or alcohol detection and a breath sample for alcohol detection. Next is analysis of the sample by the collection device, in the case of an "instant" test or a breath test, or by a laboratory. Lastly, there is a review by a Medical Review Officer (MRO), a doctor trained specifically in this area to interpret the results (when they come from a lab) and interact with the donor in cases of positive results.

My company is involved with the first step, we are the spear and the collectors are the pointy end of that spear; the infantry, in other words. The collectors are also often part of Governor Romney's much maligned 47%ers. The difference is, as you will shortly see, while many of the these people may not pay much, if anything in the way of taxes, for this is not a high paying field of endeavor, and they can have a lot of expense write-offs, they word very hard for what they do earn. What is more, they work at jobs that potentially save the lives of the people they are collecting from as well as innocent third parties; which is something many in the 53% can't claim on their resumé.

The infantry is not a bad analogy. While I don't know of an instance of a collector being shot at, I do know of them being followed, their tires slashed and their equipment stolen be pissed-off (pun intended) donors. Sex discrimination is common since most of the collectors are female and most of the donors are rough-and-tumble males. What you will read in a moment was presented to our annual conference and was directed, as I mentioned, to our clients by to make them aware of what goes on in the trenches. Consequently, the terminology is in their language, so I will add some interpretation as the narrative progresses. Now, let's listen to what Katy has to say.

POST-ACCIDENTS REQUIRE DRUG TESTING

From texaslady1960
From texaslady1960 | Source

A VIEW FROM THE BOTTOM - KATY BYKERK

It’s Thanksgiving Day, the out-of-towners have arrived, and we all sit down for dinner. My phone rings. Aghast and disapproving looks from all, as I take the call. I can still hear the protests as I walk to my car to handle a reasonable cause [a type of collection] at one of my [railroad] yards. They've put the power on the ground [a train engine derailed], but thank God nobody’s been injured or killed. I try to explain [to my family and friends] when I return to a clean table and dessert already eaten, that this is what I signed up for; this is my job, I am always ready to go.

A collector out of my area is OOS [out of service, Katy is the area manager] and I get a reasonable [cause dispatch] call to her area; 60 miles into my drive of 85 miles, the California Freeway comes to a dead stop! Unique to California, I am in the middle of a "Sigalert". The radio tells me a cement truck has spilled cement up ahead. The RR manager calls me; he’s new to California and he doesn't understand a “Sigalert"... 2 hours and 6 calls later, he yells at me. I haven’t moved in 2 hours, welcome to my world.

Becky [a collector Katy manages] is returning from a collection. Almost home, 5 minutes to go, and she is rear-ended at a stop sign. Her car is totaled, she is not hurt. [Undaunted] She rents a car and goes out on her next collection that evening.

What does it mean to be a collector? Urine collecting and breath alcohol collecting, is that all you think we do? We wake from a dead sleep and arrive at our destination awake, alert , knowledgeable [knowing the federal regulations and how the equipment operates], and in a timely manner. Sometimes it’s a minor incident, sometimes it’s a devastating catastrophic accident with missing limbs or death. Somebody needs a drug test, and that’s what we do. I’m on my way.

Six years ago, ADTS lost a collector on his way back from a collection. . Cav [the collector] rode his Goldwing motorcycle to all his collections. He’d been very busy, and this was his last collection for the night. A beautiful clear full moon February 11, and he just crashed his bike on a long stretch of I-10, and died. An autopsy revealed no medical reason for him to just crash his bike on an empty stretch of highway. Every collector [,however,] knew exactly what happened, Cav fell asleep. We’ve all almost done it, after being up all night on ”one of those reasonable cause runs [where a collector has to arrive as soon as possible].” Sometimes it’s [the cause for a collector to go get called] a run of poor judgement calls. Your employees put trains on the ground, trainmen miss signals or someone getting a minor or catastrophic injury or it’s a random Thru-Freight test. I’m on my way.

A trainmen tests positive for alcohol, and cries [sometimes literally] to me, PLEASE, PLEASE, I have a family to support, don’t get me fired. It’s my second time. I feel terrible for him, but I immediately report it. I think about him all that day, but I have no doubt he must be taken out of service. I don’t consider anything else. It’s my responsibility to help us all keep compliant and safe.

Please understand what we do is neither easy, nor simple. We are knowledgeable in the Code of Federal Regulations, and know when to question a call [a dispatch with conflicting information] and speak to our supervisor. Our hours are 24/7 and our families know we must leave if you call for us. This is what we do, and for the most part, do exceptionally well.

We are happy to be of service to you.

Thank You,

Your ADTS Collectors

THE CONSEQUENCES

COLLECTING PEE IS NOT A GLAMOUROUS JOB but somebody has to do it because it demonstrably saves lives. One of the charts presented by the Federal Railroad Authority (FRA) was a dramatic decrease in both positive detection rates and train accidents about three years after the random drug and alcohol testing program was instituted in the late-1980s; it is now down to 0.7%, I believe, it had been over 3.5%. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) or truckers had the same results. As a consequence, those industries overseen by the Department of Transportation are among the lowest in overall drug and alcohol use among its employed population.

Collectors have the same motto as do postal workers regarding doing their job. At any given time, day or night, rain or shine, hot or cold, hundreds of women and many men are cris-crossing the nation from coast-to-coast and border-to-border on their way to meet up with some donor to ask them the very unappealing, but nevertheless very important question of whether they will provide a urine or breath sample or not; someone else's life, let alone their own, may depend on their answer.

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