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Background Checks for Safety Sensitive Positions

Date Published: September 08, 2021 | Last Updated:September 15, 2023 | By Suraiya Sarwar
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One of the primary purposes for conducting background checks for employment purposes is safety. Regardless of the position for which you are hiring, employment background checks can help you protect your organization from fraud, violence, and crime. However, if you are hiring for safety-sensitive positions, background checks are critical and may be mandatory. The following takes a closer look at what constitutes a safety-sensitive position, and the role background screenings and drug tests play in maintaining important safety protocols.

What Constitutes a Safety-Sensitive Position?

Employees in safety-sensitive jobs are responsible for their own personal safety as well as the safety of others. Examples include:

  • Drivers
  • Pilots
  • Pharmacists
  • Medical care providers
  • Teachers
  • Linemen
  • Police officers
  • Security
  • Childcare providers
  • Nursing home employees
  • Heavy equipment operators

While identifying safety-sensitive positions may seem obvious, it’s important to note that federal, state, and local laws and regulations often designate certain jobs as safety-sensitive, so it’s always wise to check the law.

Background Screenings and Safety

First and foremost, the employees you hire need to be qualified to do the work. Background checks will verify that your new hires have the education, credentials, and experience required for the job. But background screenings also uncover criminal records and other red flags that may disqualify candidates from safety-sensitive positions. Let’s look at a handful of examples that illustrate how both these functions relate to safety in your workplace.


Running a background check on a driver that includes driving history will confirm that the candidate has a valid driver’s license for the type of vehicle they will be operating. The background check will also reveal their driving history and if they have any serious moving traffic violations or DUIs on their record.

Healthcare Providers

If you’re hiring healthcare providers, including physicians, nurses, medical assistants, or EMTs, you need to confirm that they have the requisite education and licenses. But that’s the bare minimum. Safety protocols may also require you to check to ensure that providers are not listed on any abuse registries, healthcare fraud watch lists, or other disciplinary action lists.

Heavy Equipment Operators

If your business hires folks to operate heavy equipment and machinery, background checks are important to making safe hires. Not only will you discover if the individual has the experience needed to do the job, checking past references and criminal records will reveal if there is a history of violence or other behavior that might put your organization at risk.

Beyond Safety

We’ve established the relationship between background checks and safety, but are there other benefits to an employee screening program? Employers who make background screenings part of their standard hiring procedures may enjoy several other benefits, including:

  • Fewer workplace safety incidents
  • Fewer penalties and fines for non-compliance with federal and state screening mandates
  • Lower liability costs for workplace accidents
  • Fewer lawsuits related to workplace safety or negligent hiring practices
  • Lower worker’s compensations costs
  • Improved productivity
  • Higher workplace morale

The takeaway: Background checks are good for business.

The Role of Drug Testing

Drug testing is an important component of screening for safety-sensitive positions. Performing these jobs while impaired by drugs or alcohol places the employee as well as others at risk for harm and serious injury, potentially even death. Many safety-sensitive positions require an individual to pass a 5-panel urine drug test. This test is the standard outlined by the United States Department of Transportation, so it is a reasonable place to start. This test screens for the following substances:

  • Marijuana – THC
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines and methamphetamines
  • Opiates – opium and codeine derivatives
  • Phencyclidine – PCP

Other drug panels are also available. If you aren’t subject to DOT or other specifically mandated regulations, you can develop your own drug-testing standards. Accurate will work with you to determine a protocol that will meet your needs. In addition, you can request drug tests at various times, not just prior to hiring. Many employers choose to drug test as follows, when permitted by law:

  • Pre-employment
  • When there is reasonable suspicion
  • Ongoing random testing
  • Following as accident
  • Following the return to work after a positive test

You may also find that other tests such as saliva tests or breathalyzers may be necessary to detect alcohol use, especially following workplace accidents. Talk to our drug testing team for more information.

A special note about marijuana:

Laws are continuing to evolve regarding the use of recreational marijuana. As a result, many employers are questioning the inclusion of marijuana and its metabolites in regular drug screens. However, it’s important to know that any marijuana use, even where it’s legal, may still be a problem for safety-sensitive positions. Consult the experts at Accurate and your own legal team about the best strategy for handling marijuana in your drug testing policies.

Beyond Safety

Again, the benefits of drug screening go far beyond safety.

  • A clear drug testing policy serves as an effective deterrent to non-sober applicants and to employees who wish to maintain their employment.
  • Drug tests provide proof of wrongdoing in the event of a workplace accident caused by mind-altering substances.
  • Workplaces that are free from substance abuse enjoy greater productivity and higher employee morale.

The Accurate Approach

If your business employs people in safety-sensitive positions, background checks and drug screens are a must. Accurate is here to help you create and implement an effective and reliable background check policy that will help you protect your organization. We provide exceptional domestic and international employment background screenings for businesses of all types and all sizes. Contact us today to learn how we can create a program that’s right for you.

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