Construction Scheduling Techniques: A Comprehensive Guide for Effective Project Management

Construction projects are complex endeavors that, without proper planning, can easily run over budget and schedule. That’s why having a reliable set of construction scheduling techniques is so essential.

Construction scheduling helps ensure construction projects stay on track and within budget. Implementing construction scheduling techniques before construction and throughout the entire project can also limit risks and delays, all while improving the overall quality of the effort.

In this blog, we dig deep into what construction scheduling is, explore different construction scheduling techniques, identify best practices for effective construction scheduling, and more.

Understanding the Basics of Construction Scheduling

Construction scheduling involves the detailed planning of construction projects from start to completion. This can include pre-construction submittals/plans, physical construction, oversight, and project closeout, among other activities required by individual construction project contracts.

TA good construction schedule details who is responsible for tasks, when those tasks need to be done, and in what order they should be completed. Construction schedules also give project managers the details they need to equip their construction projects with the appropriate amount of people and equipment. With this information in hand, construction teams have a better chance of finishing a project more efficiently and correctly.

What is Construction Scheduling?

Construction scheduling involves compiling all the tasks and deliverables necessary to complete a construction project. Each deliverable is assigned a deadline and expected date of completion. Tasks are assembled in timeline order and are assigned to individuals.

Construction schedules serve as a “single source of truth” for the project. With a detailed construction schedule, construction teams and clients understand where things stand at all times. Thus, the schedule provides clarity into assigned roles, helps increase communication and collaboration, allows for more accurate budgeting, and allows clients to receive real-time updates on the status of their construction projects.

Key Components of a Construction Schedule

Construction schedules can be written or illustrated, depending on the preferences of the construction project manager and their team. Whatever the method, all construction schedules share some common characteristics, including:

  • Tasks: The various tasks that need to be completed during construction
  • Deadlines: When those tasks need to be completed and their expected durations
  • Dependencies: Relationships between tasks that drive the project schedule
  • Constraints: Issues that could cause deviation in the schedule
  • Roles: The individuals or teams responsible for completing the tasks
  • Milestones: Milestones signaling the end of a phase of the project. Milestones are different from deadlines, which are specific to certain tasks. Most construction schedules will have more deadlines listed than milestones.

Exploring Various Construction Scheduling Techniques

exploring construction scheduling techniques

Though the goal and purpose of every construction schedule is the same, the ways in which construction schedules are created and implemented differ. Construction managers have a number of construction scheduling techniques to choose from for their projects. Among the most common methods are critical path, last planner system and pull planning, program evaluation and review, and Earned Value Management. Let’s review these methods.

Critical Path Method (CPM)

The critical path method (CPM) focuses on the tasks or activities that are most critical for the successful completion of a construction project. The construction manager identifies the minimum tasks required to complete a project using the CPM. Tasks are listed in terms of dependencies (i.e., Task B cannot be completed until Task A is done). The most urgent dependencies are then prioritized.

There are several steps involved in the CPM. They include:

  • Identifying and listing all construction project tasks.
  • Determining the order in which the tasks must be completed (including dependencies between tasks).
  • Estimating how much time it will take to complete the tasks.
  • Creating a network diagram that shows tasks, dependencies, and duration to complete tasks.
  • Identifying the “critical path.”

The critical path is the list of tasks that will take the longest time to complete. Identifying these tasks is important, as any delay in any one task could result in the entire project running over schedule and over budget. Once these tasks are identified, the construction project manager will understand where to prioritize their team’s work.

The CPM offers many benefits, including:

  • Allows managers to schedule activities around the most important tasks.
  • Provides managers with the ability to schedule activities in a more efficient and effective manner.
  • Provides visibility into which parts of the construction project might be more flexible (i.e., tasks that are not on the critical path).
  • Offers a better chance that construction projects will be completed on time—thereby satisfying contractual obligations.
  • Assurance of on-time invoicing upon completion of the construction project.

Last Planner System (LPS) and Pull Planning

The goal behind the Last Planner® System (LPS) is to make construction projects as lean and efficient as possible. Created by the Lean Construction Institute, the LPS “promotes the creation of a predictable workflow among various parties so that it achieves reliable results.” It does this by providing construction managers with a five-phase system that includes:

  1. Master planning: During this phase, the most important components of the construction project are identified, listed, and scheduled. These include major project milestones, tasks, and corresponding deadlines. The main goal or goals of the project are also determined to ensure that all tasks align with the client’s needs.
  2. Phase planning: In the second phase, processes are clearly defined, schedules are honed, and a final execution plan is created.
  3. Lookahead planning (AKA, “make-ready planning”): Here, all tasks are carefully reviewed by the construction managers (in this case, also known as “the last planners”), who look for any possible risks or obstacles that could stand in the way of the project being completed successfully and efficiently. Things they might look for include:
    1. The availability of labor and materials.
    2. Access to equipment.
    3. Other obstacles to construction, including conflicting documentation, time to receive required permits, etc.
  4. Weekly work planning: Construction teams review the tasks outlined in phase planning and create weekly work plans around those tasks. Each team is responsible for completing the tasks they’ve been assigned.
  5. Learning: During the final phase, construction teams analyze and measure the results of their work and learn from their findings in order to enhance and improve their processes. Learning is generally comprised of:
    1. Daily coordination meetings, during which last planners meet to discuss the overall performance of their teams and the status of the construction project. These meetings give planners the chance to proactively make adjustments as needed.
    2. Analysis of key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics to ensure the project is on track to achieve its goals. KPIs that are often analyzed include the percentage of the plan that has been completed, the percentage of tasks that are ready to begin as planned, and the analysis of future tasks to begin planning for their implementation.

In addition to daily coordination meetings, many last planners augment their planning processes with daily huddles, where managers meet with construction teams to discuss that day’s tasks and deadlines. Huddles help teams stay on track. They also give them the opportunity to discuss potential issues before they arise and circumvent them before they have a chance to derail a project.

Finally, pull-planning is a component of the LPS in which resources – personnel, equipment, materials, etc. – only arrive at the construction site when needed. Think of it as a variation of the just-in-time inventory system that many plant managers use to align the receipt of raw materials with their production schedules. Pull-planning allows last planners to create a more efficient construction process by only receiving the required assets when they are actually needed.

Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT)

Construction project planners begin the PERT technique by identifying tasks within the project and their expected timeframes for completion. Managers then identify and prioritize the most critical tasks and create an estimated timeline that references the sequence of tasks, dependencies between tasks, and the expected time it will take to complete each task.

Note that while there is some overlap between the PERT method and CPM, they each serve slightly different use cases. The PERT is mainly used as a time estimation tool and is best applied when the timeframes for completion of tasks cannot be completely and accurately defined. The CPM is generally used when the timeline to complete tasks is more easily predictable (for example, based on the time it took to complete tasks in past projects).

Unlike CPM, a PERT schedule is always presented graphically. This is known as a PERT chart. Similar to a Gantt chart, a PERT chart displays the tasks and the order in which they must be completed in an easy-to-read diagram. PERT charts use arrows to show the direction of the construction workflow and mark each task with its expected completion timeline (for example, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, etc.). PERT charts may also show project milestones, call out dependencies between tasks, and more.

Earned Value Management

More of a project management methodology rather than a pure construction scheduling technique, Earned Value Management (EVM) is nevertheless important to ensuring projects remain on track. Also known as Earned Value Analysis, EVM employs three different values to calculate the status of projects: Planned Value (PV), Actual Cost (AC), and Earned Value (EV).

PV measures the amount of work that should be done by certain points in the schedule as well as by the completion of the project. It is measured using the mathematical formula % complete/planned x budget at completion = total planned value. It’s a good tool for measuring the value of the work being done as the project moves through its various phases.

AC shows the actual costs incurred during specific periods throughout the project. These costs accumulate through the lifecycle of the project, finally resulting in a total amount when the project reaches its conclusion.

EV monitors how much money should have been spent at each phase of the project, rather than how much was actually spent. It is calculated using the mathematical formula % complete x budget at completion = EV. It shows the monetary value of the work that’s been done up to a certain point.

EVM offers many benefits, including:

  • Project forecasting and risk management. EVM allows construction managers to foresee problems before they occur, allowing them to course correct and avoid potential issues.
  • Progress tracking. Construction projects can be closely monitored from start to finish, ensuring that work takes place on time and on budget. With EVM insights, managers can accelerate work, ramp up hiring, procure additional equipment, and more as necessary.
  • Resource planning and forecasting. Managers can use EVM to see if their current resources are appropriate for the tasks they have planned. They can right-size resources to fit within the project scope and budget.
  • Quantifying value. Managers can quantify the value of the work being performed through PV, AC, and EV – at any point during the construction process. They can then make decisions on how to improve the process if necessary.

The Role of Technology in Construction Planning

Integrating technology in construction scheduling techniques

Technology plays a major role in modern construction planning. Construction projects are simply too large and complex for human beings to coordinate on their own. Technologies, including construction scheduling software, provide many benefits to help keep construction projects on time and under budget, including automation, better communication among teams, and more. These and other features simplify and optimize the scheduling process.

Advancements in Scheduling Software

Construction scheduling software has enjoyed many advancements over the past few years. Today, most construction scheduling tools are cloud-based and easily accessible via mobile devices, making it easier for project managers and planners to keep track of all phases of construction from anywhere.

One of the most popular construction scheduling tools is the Gantt chart. A Gantt chart is a bar chart that shows dependencies between tasks and allows project managers to create a visual hierarchy that shows the relationship between critical and less critical tasks. Many different software tools can be used to create a Gantt chart. Some of the most popular include Microsoft Project, Oracle Primavera P6, GanttPRO Project Planner, Smartsheet, and others.

The Project Evaluation and Review Technique employs a similar visual aid to display the relationship between tasks and their expected times for completion. Again, several software tools can be used to create PERT charts, including Microsoft Excel, Lucidchart, SmartDraw, and other popular workflow management tools.

Beyond charts, many other innovative technologies are increasingly playing a vital role in construction scheduling, including:

  • Simulation tools, which allow construction project managers to simulate the impact a change to the task schedule will have on the construction schedule, costs, and the outcome.
  • Building Information Modeling (BIM) and 4D scheduling, which can provide managers with digital representation of their projects. When linked with a construction schedule, they can provide a visual window in the progress of the construction project over time.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), which are embedded in many modern construction technologies and can be used to automate the construction process, resulting in greater efficiencies.

Comprehensive project and portfolio management software incorporates many of these features to make it easier for managers to visualize and track the progress of construction projects. For example, Oracle Primavera P6 and Microsoft Project allow project managers to plan, manage, and execute all aspects of their projects, including scheduling.

Both tools have their unique benefits. Whereas each has features that align well with the CPM, Oracle Primavera P6 provides more in-depth functionality, including “what-if” scenario analyses that show what is likely to happen if part of the project is changed or is not completed on time. Managers of large-scale construction projects may opt for the functionality that Oracle provides. Conversely, Microsoft Project provides a more streamlined approach to CPM, with visualizations primarily through a Gantt chart. It could be the software of choice for managers in charge of smaller or less complex construction projects.

Integrating Technology with Traditional Techniques

Simulation tools, BIM and 4D scheduling software, AI and ML, and other technologies can be integrated with traditional construction scheduling techniques to provide enhanced efficiency and a greater chance of success and customer satisfaction. Indeed, many of these technologies are essential to traditional construction scheduling techniques. The tools used to create PERT charts, for example, are integral to the PERT technique.

Technologies like AI, ML, BIM, and simulation tools can be integrated into various phases within traditional construction scheduling techniques. For instance, a project manager could use BIM and/or simulation in the initial planning phase of the last planner system. Meanwhile, employing AI and ML throughout the life cycle of the construction project can yield valuable insights that can be used in daily huddles and other planning sessions to improve efficiency.

Best Practices for Effective Construction Scheduling

Team collaboration in construction scheduling

Since construction projects vary in size, scope, and complexity, it makes sense to simplify their planning as best as possible. One way to do this is to apply the following best practices, which can help construction managers on any project, no matter its size, achieve their desired goals.

Setting Realistic Timelines and Milestones

Having pre-set realistic timelines, baselines, and milestones is critically important to the success of any construction project, where success is predicated on meeting deadlines. The success of a project is measured against baseline schedules and performance management plans, with milestones typically driven by activities and durations created in the approved baseline schedule. Setting achievable timelines, baselines, and milestones prevents projects from running over budget and time.

To set realistic timelines, construction project managers should:

  • Break work into smaller and easily achievable tasks.
  • Refer to previous similar projects and use their task timeframes as a reference.
  • Consider any potential obstacles that could impede the completion of tasks (and plan the timeframe accordingly).

Resource Management and Allocation

Effective resource management and allocation can mean the difference between a construction project that is finished on time and within budget versus one that experiences cost and schedule overruns. This process is known as “resource loading,” where hours and costs are loaded into the schedule for project control and tracking.

Resource loadingt and allocation begin in the planning phase of project scheduling. Here, project managers identify the resources they will need during construction, including labor, equipment, materials, and other assets.

Many construction scheduling tools also provide features that allow managers to track resources throughout construction by providing real-time feedback on labor hours, available equipment, and more. Managers can make adjustments to resources as needed during construction, adjusting labor schedules, ordering more materials, and taking other steps to proactively manage the schedule. They can also allocate resources to critical tasks as necessary.

Overcoming Common Challenges in Construction Scheduling

While construction scheduling is exceedingly beneficial in helping all construction projects run smoothly, it’s not without its challenges. Here’s how to manage one of the most common pitfalls associated with construction scheduling—project delays.

Dealing with Project Delays

Many things contribute to construction project delays, including budget conflicts or inaccuracies, lack of communication, and a poorly defined scope of work. One of the biggest culprits behind project delays is simply poor project planning, which can include setting unrealistic timelines, not prioritizing critical tasks, and other mistakes that can back up a project.

The best way to deal with project delays is to use a construction scheduling technique to carefully plan out the scope and timeline of the project, even before breaking ground. Construction schedules provide detailed guidelines for all project work and when the work needs to be done. Having this schedule in advance can mitigate the potential for delays.

If a delay does occur, construction scheduling techniques can still help, especially if they include regular planning meetings throughout the course of the project. These meetings can provoke ideas on how to manage the delays so that they do not significantly impact the rest of the project.

Mastering Construction Scheduling for Project Success

Construction scheduling isn’t a “nice to have,” but a necessary component of successful construction project management. Adopting leading construction scheduling techniques and pairing them with the right technology can help builders keep their projects on schedule and under budget, resulting in more efficient and cost-effective builds.

Acuity has decades of experience helping organizations with construction management of projects of all sizes. We help project managers select and implement the right scheduling strategy and apply sustainable business practices, proven project management techniques, and effective cost analysis and engineering principles to help our clients create and manage construction schedules that work for their projects.

Contact Acuity to learn more about our construction scheduling services.

Comprehensive Guide to Effective Wellness Program Ideas

Workplace wellness programs promote healthy employee habits and ensure workers are physically and mentally prepared to do their best work while fostering a harmonious work-life balance. Additionally, they reduce health insurance and worker’s compensation costs, enhance the reputation of businesses, attract talent, and minimize absenteeism.

Wellness programs are gaining in popularity. A recent study by the Transamerica Institute found that wellness programs are the third most frequently offered health and welfare benefits after health and life insurance. Moreover, 81% of employers feel responsible for helping employees maintain long-term health and well-being.

In this blog, we explain the benefits of employee wellness programs, share wellness program ideas, and offer tips and best practices for implementing an effective and sustainable program.

Benefits of Wellness Programs at Work

According to a survey by Aon, organizations are increasingly investing in the well-being of their employees – 83% of companies have at least one well-being initiative and 83% have a well-being strategy (up more than 25% since 2020). Importantly, 41% said they have a well-being strategy that is fully integrated into their overall business strategy.

Tangible results of wellness programs can be realized as early as two years into a program. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) cites reduced absenteeism, more engaged employees, higher productivity, and increased employee morale as among the main benefits of wellness programs at work. In addition, companies with wellness programs have a 25% decrease in employee turnover.

To understand the benefits of wellness programs, consider the cost of poor well-being. A study by Gallup reveals that 75% of medical costs are due to preventable conditions and $322 billion of turnover and lost productivity is due to employee burnout. Both can be lessened through a workplace that prioritizes employee well-being.

Key Components of Successful Wellness Programs

Effective wellness programs address key areas including:

  • Career well-being: Enjoyment of work.
  • Social well-being: Meaningful connections and relationships with others.
  • Emotional well-being: Stress management, mindfulness, and managing emotions.
  • Financial well-being: Money management.
  • Physical well-being: Care of the body including nutrition, diet, and exercise.

Catering to the diverse needs of employees, including their physical, mental, and emotional health is key.

Innovative Wellness Program Ideas

Employees celebrating company growth thanks to innovative wellness programs

A wellness program can incorporate a variety of ideas, such as an on-site fitness center, yoga classes, and mental health resources. But to be effective, a wellness program should consider the individual needs of employees, workplace risk factors, and workplace culture.

Incorporating Wellness into Daily Work Life

It’s easy to say wellness is important, but how do you integrate wellness into the workplace? Let’s look at five practical ways you can incorporate wellness into everyday work routines.

  1. In the workplace: Workplace wellness activities need not be expensive or hard to implement. Ideas include creating an ergonomic workplace, lunch and learns to educate employees about their well-being (fitness, nutrition, sleep, vaccinations, etc.), stocking fridges and vending machines with healthy snack choices, wellness activity clubs (such as group walks, cycling, or other group exercises), weekly wellness newsletters, discounted gym or yoga class memberships, chair massages, employee health screenings, and more.
  2. Flexible working hours: Flex time can improve employees’ work-life balance and reduce stress. However, time flexibility can mean different things to each employee. According to Gallup, the most appealing flexibilities that employees look for include a choice of which days per week to work, increased PTO or vacation time, four-day weekends, and flexible start and/or end times. Surprisingly, remote work or work-from-home options were less valued (only 33% of frontline employees said they would change employers for that benefit). Survey your employees to find out what they value.
  3. Financial counseling: Personal financial difficulties can cause significant stress and distraction. Partner with local financial institutions or advisors to offer financial advice and counseling to employees, either in a group format or one-on-one. Online training may also be an option. Topics include money management, retirement savings strategies, saving for college, and more.
  4. Don’t forget remote employees: Working from home can provide a lot of flexibility, but it can also make it difficult to build relationships with colleagues, supervisors, and clients. This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as increased stress, burnout, and other mental health issues. Look for ways to make wellness activities virtual and leverage as many technology channels as possible, including webinars, teleconferencing, mobile apps, and so on. Create a wellness portal where on-site and remote employees can track health activities, including diet and exercise, access healthy recipes, and chat and support each other.
  5. Offer incentives: Encourage employees to achieve their wellness goals by providing incentives like paid time off or t-shirts.  

Leadership’s Role in Wellness Programs

Female manager leading an office meeting on wellness program initiatives

As with any workplace strategy, it’s important to lead by example. Explore ways in which business leaders can foster a wellness culture by supporting and participating in wellness initiatives. When employees see leaders championing wellness, it helps demonstrate the purpose of the program and how it benefits everyone. Importantly, leadership support also shows employees that their boss cares about their well-being.

For business leaders to create a culture of health, consider the following best practices:

  • Appoint a senior executive to champion the wellness program:
    • Identify a senior executive to lead the company’s wellness program.
    • Empower them to communicate program goals, objectives, and activities.
  • Encourage executive involvement:
    • Foster excitement and engagement by having the executive actively participate in campaigns and activities.
    • Encourage the executive to set personal wellness goals and share their experiences. This transparency can inspire and create a more relatable connection with employees.
  • Recognize employee efforts:
    • Ensure that executives recognize and reward employees’ wellness efforts and achievements.
    • Incorporate acknowledgment in team meetings or through dedicated recognition programs.

Designing a Wellness Program That Works

Designing an effective wellness program involves careful planning and consideration of the needs and preferences of your workforce. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you create a wellness program that works:

  1. Assess employee needs and preferences: Consult your workforce to understand and prioritize wellness opportunities. Conduct surveys or host focus groups to identify evidence-based strategies to improve workplace wellness. Several factors should be measured, such as job satisfaction, stress levels, and overall well-being.
  2. Secure Leadership Support: Gain commitment from top leadership to ensure the allocation of resources, support, and the integration of wellness into the organizational culture.
  3. Identify risk factors: Risk factors that can hinder the health of employee well-being include lack of ergonomics in the workplace, insufficient work-life balance, poor interpersonal relationships with managers and coworkers, and more. For tips on conducting a workplace health and wellness assessment, refer to this guide from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or consider incorporating a risk assessment as part of your employee surveys/focus groups.
  4. Establish a dedicated wellness committee: This team is responsible for developing the program, planning activities, communicating with management, and evaluating the program’s effectiveness. Ensure the committee includes representatives from various departments to bring diverse perspectives and skills to your program.
  5. Appoint a wellness program coordinator: Designated by the wellness committee, the coordinator will lead your wellness program and coordinate the delivery and evaluation of activities. Depending on the size of your organization and the scale of your program, you may wish to partner with an external vendor who can dedicate the appropriate time and resources.

Measuring the Success of Wellness Programs

For your wellness program to be effective, you must track and evaluate critical metrics and KPIs, such as participation rates, employee feedback, and health outcomes.

Evaluation can help define the value of your program and answer key questions, including: Was it a quality program? Did it accomplish something important? Was it cost-effective? What are the lessons learned?

Focus on measurable and realistic outcomes, such as:

  • Participation in wellness activities over time.
  • Reduced absenteeism due to injury or illness.
  • Changes in the number and type of health insurance claims.
  • Increased use of preventative healthcare screening.
  • Increased employee retention.

Regularly survey your employees to obtain feedback and insights about their wellness success stories.

Challenges and Solutions in Wellness Program Implementation

A major challenge to implementing a wellness program is that there is no single definition of wellness from a healthcare perspective. Indeed, the lack of a standardized definition and framework for wellness programs can make it challenging to implement effective initiatives. As a result, wellness can be interpreted differently by employers and employees, leading to a wide range of initiatives that don’t address the priorities of either party. For example, if an employer focuses on physical health, but employees place a greater priority on mental health, the organization’s efforts will not yield the desired results.

Another challenge is employee participation. A lack of program definition may create confusion or skepticism among employees about the goals and benefits of the program. Use surveys and focus groups to understand your employees’ diverse needs, perspectives, and priorities.

Budget issues are often cited as a concern for employers. However, there are many low-cost initiatives that employers can implement. Furthermore, 90% of companies that measure their wellness programs see a positive return, including reduced costs for healthcare, recruitment, retention, and engagement.

Regardless of the financial investment in a corporate wellness program, its success hinges on sustainability. Tailor the program to meet the needs of employees, secure leadership commitment and support, recognize and incentivize participation and behavioral changes, and consistently assess the program’s effectiveness.

Prioritizing Employee Wellness for Organizational Success

Happy employees at work, benefiting from comprehensive wellness programs

Prioritizing employee wellness fosters a healthier and more engaged workforce. However, for your wellness program to be effective and sustainable, it must be tailored to the unique needs of your organization, have clear goals and objectives, and be supported by senior leadership. Additionally, it must be regularly evaluated and adjusted to ensure its ongoing effectiveness.

Whether you’re getting started with a workplace wellness program or are looking to optimize an existing initiative, Acuity can help.

Our comprehensive on-site wellness programs focus on engaging and empowering employees to choose healthy behaviors and make changes that reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. Simple changes in employee lifestyle can increase health and general well-being, which in turn decreases lost workdays and insurance costs for employers.

Contact us to learn more.

Acuity International Appoints New Chief Technology Officer

Reston, Va. – February 1, 2024 –Acuity International, a leading provider of process and technology-based services and solutions to government and commercial clients, today announced that John Hollinger has been appointed as Chief Technology Officer. Hollinger will be responsible for shaping Acuity’s technology strategy and driving innovation.

Hollinger brings over 20 years of technical leadership experience to the role, spanning multiple industry sectors including government, financial services, manufacturing and healthcare. His IT consulting and entrepreneurship background includes senior leadership positions at AIG, Dell Technologies, and Accenture/Avanade. 

“John’s extensive track record of leveraging technology for value creation within the public and private sectors makes him uniquely qualified to support Acuity’s continued growth and that of our customers and partners,” said Tony Corbi, CEO of Acuity International. “He will be instrumental in serving the technology/platform needs of Acuity’s customers, expanding our service delivery capabilities, and establishing a strong security posture.”

“I’m thrilled to join the Acuity team and lead the technology strategy for this innovative company,” said Hollinger. “Acuity has built an impressive track record of leveraging technology to deliver cutting-edge solutions for customers. I look forward to working with this talented team to drive continuous improvement and position Acuity for the next phase of growth.”

About Acuity International

Acuity International provides process and technology-based critical services to global
government and commercial enterprises. As global problem-solvers, Acuity implements
purpose-built frameworks, repeatable processes, and enabling technology to accelerate time-to-value. Acuity International is comprised of three business practices:

  1. Care to drive a healthy and compliant workforce and create stability for those in need;
  2. Build for providing cost engineering and construction management
    services and delivering munitions response/demilitarization services;
  3. Secure fordelivering mobile and static security services, and end-to-end critical facility management.

For more information, visit: https://acuityinternational.com/

Acuity International is headquartered in Reston, Virginia, and employs approximately 2,800 people in more than 10 countries.

What Role Does the Government Play During a Natural Disaster: A Comprehensive Exploration

The number and severity of natural disasters is rising. In 2022 alone, 387 natural disaster events were recorded, above the average of the previous 20 years.

Federal, state, and local governments play critical roles in preparing for, managing, and responding to natural disasters. Organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), local law enforcement agencies, and others are instrumental in ensuring that those who are impacted by a natural disaster—whether an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, wildfire, or other event—receive the aid they require to rebuild their lives and communities. They provide those who are impacted with shelter, food, medical assistance, financial guidance, and more.

In this blog, we look at what role the government plays during a natural disaster. We also examine the different agencies involved in disaster and emergency response and how they coordinate with each other to help communities reset and rebuild after a catastrophic event.

Understanding the Government’s Role in Disaster Management

Government agencies preparing for natural disasters in a situation room

The government’s response to natural disasters begins long before the event occurs. Government agencies regularly prepare for adverse incidents to improve responsiveness and outcomes. During and after an event, teams respond quickly to provide immediate relief. They continue to help victims in the days, weeks, and months following the conclusion of the disaster by aiding in long-term recovery and reconstruction.

Preparedness and Prevention Strategies

Government preparedness for a natural disaster takes place 365 days a year. Federal, state, and local agencies continuously create and refine emergency response plans that include:

  • Pre-disaster mitigation efforts, such as updating building codes; constructing disaster-resilient infrastructure that sustains high water levels, extreme heat, etc.; creating water retention areas in case of flooding; and more.
  • Preparing government employees. This includes training government employees on how to respond to different scenarios, helping them understand their roles, and providing them with tools that will help them respond during an emergency (for example, Geographic Information Systems that show the location of hospitals, police and fire stations, and so forth).

Disaster preparedness and response do more than just save lives. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, every $1 spent on disaster mitigation saves government agencies $6 and creates jobs.

Immediate Response and Relief Efforts

Once a disaster strikes, government agencies put their plans into action and respond swiftly and surely. Emergency managers and first responders are sent to the scene to engage in search and rescue operations, provide immediate aid to victims, assess damage, and more. During this initial phase, the agencies in charge may also set up and manage shelters and provide victims with clothing, food, and water.

While first responders are helping the victims, other government agencies work hard to restore power and communications, provide transportation, and re-activate essential services. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials ensure public order and security.

Long-Term Recovery and Reconstruction

Recovery and reconstruction following a natural disaster can take months or even years. It’s a highly complex process that involves:

  • Close collaboration between federal, state, and local governments.
  • Continuous communication among recovery managers and other resources.
  • Careful planning to ensure what is built in the aftermath is even more resilient than what came before.
  • Paying close attention and attending to the needs of those who were displaced by the event.

Financial resources play a major role in recovery and reconstruction, both for individuals and communities. For example, FEMA provides financial assistance for both individuals and governments. The agency also offers grants that support critical recovery initiatives.

The Role of Local, State, and Federal Governments

Government's immediate response with medical tents in a suburban disaster zone

Federal, state, and local governments each have unique and important roles to play in responding to disasters and supporting recovery efforts.

Local Government’s First Response

Local government agencies are the first line of defense when a natural disaster strikes. Local police, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, and others are quickly mobilized and dispatched to the scene, rushing to provide aid, coordinate rescue and recovery efforts, and ensure the safety and well-being of those who are impacted. These organizations collaborate with state and federal agencies to assist individuals and families in need, resulting in a well-coordinated and effective response.

In addition to first responders, public utility organizations work to restore electricity and heat, begin debris removal, and perform other tasks to help the community get back up and running.

State Government’s Coordination and Support

Often, disasters encompass more than just a single town, county, or tribal land, or are calamitous enough to warrant more assistance than local governments alone can provide. In such cases, municipalities may require the assistance of state governments to aid in response and recovery efforts.

Upon receiving a request for assistance, a state emergency management office will assess the request and advise the governor of specific actions to take. The governor may then declare a state of emergency and provide government resources to assist in the response and recovery process. For example, a state could assist in determining evacuation routes, controlling the flow of people into and out of the impacted area, suspend state laws and ordinances that could impede rescue efforts, and so on. The state may also request aid from neighboring states.

The state government is also a conduit for requesting assistance from the federal government. The governor may ask the president of the United States for a presidential disaster or emergency declaration, thereby authorizing federal assistance to the impacted area.

Federal Government and National Agencies

A presidential disaster or emergency declaration signals the federal government and national agencies to begin assisting in the affected areas.

First, FEMA prepares a document called the FEMA-State Agreement. Per FEMA, “this agreement describes the period of the incident (or disaster), the types of assistance to be provided, the areas eligible for assistance, the agreed-upon cost-share provisions, and other terms and conditions.”

Once the terms outlined in the document are agreed to by all parties, FEMA coordinates incident response. The agency uses its National Disaster Recovery Framework to coordinate the response, detailing the roles and responsibilities of the response team, managing lines of communication, and more.

On the ground, FEMA stands up a Disaster Field Office – essentially a headquarters where all recovery and response efforts are coordinated. Assistance rendered includes providing:

  • Food to affected individuals and families.
  • Housing assistance.
  • Loans for individuals and businesses.
  • Clothing, household items, vehicles, and other necessary needs.

Collaborative Efforts and Community Involvement

Community involvement in setting up temporary shelters after a natural disaster

Effective disaster response and recovery requires close collaboration between government, local communities, and private companies. Here are some ways these partnerships help during times of crisis.

Role of Local Communities in Disaster Management

Local leaders and residents know their communities better than anyone else and are therefore critical to response and recovery. Indeed, there are many ways local communities can help with disaster management, including:

  • Local residents and groups may volunteer to help coordinate response efforts, including donating and giving out supplies and providing input into decision-making to help prepare for future events.
  • Residents with specific skill sets (physicians, engineers, contractors, etc.) can apply those skills to the recovery effort.
  • Local leadership can provide strong and steady guidance to responders at the state and federal levels, and local volunteers, to expedite the operation.

Public-Private Partnerships in Disaster Response

Private sector organizations play an important part in disaster response. In addition to providing financial support and assistance, companies also offer resources and solutions that can help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of disaster response. Resources can include advanced technologies, equipment, and even employees, who will often donate their time to help in the response effort.

Conclusion: The Critical Role of Government in Disaster Management

All levels of government—local, state, and federal—play important roles in disaster management. Each level brings its own unique set of expertise and resources to recovery and response efforts. There are specific guidelines that must be followed before federal assistance is provided, but with that assistance comes substantial support that significantly augments the tireless efforts of local and state governments.

Finally, local communities and private sector organizations are also critical for an effective response. Residents and local leaders who know their communities well can provide important perspectives about what works best for their communities, as well as hands-on assistance. Private sector companies offer financial, technological, and human resources that can be invaluable as communities attempt to rebuild and recover.

Acuity International is ready to aid in disaster management and recovery efforts, wherever they are needed. Our disaster and emergency response services capabilities are aligned with FEMA’s national response framework and community lifelines. Through our organic resources and strategic partnerships, Acuity provides comprehensive, targeted response and logistics services that include on-site and mobile medical support, emergency influx shelters, and more. Our teams are always ready to respond to a crisis anywhere in the world within 48 hours.

Contact us to learn more about how Acuity International can assist in your disaster preparedness, recovery, and response.

Why Training is Important for Employees: Unlocking Growth and Potential

In today’s competitive labor market, employee training has never been more important. By continually upskilling your workforce you can build a robust talent pool, increase productivity and performance, and improve employee retention.

In this blog, we explore why training is important for employees, offer tips for aligning your training program with business goals, and share how you can overcome challenges in employee training.

Understanding Employee Training and Development

Diverse Group of Employees Engaged in a Corporate Training Session

Both training and development play a key role in ensuring employees are equipped with the skills they need to succeed today and in the future.

The Essence of Employee Training

Employee training is the process of equipping workers with the day-to-day skills and knowledge they need to perform their current jobs.

Through training, employees become familiar with industry trends, technologies, a company’s products, and services, and can provide the best service to customers. Training also helps them to stay motivated and productive, as they have access to new information and tools that can help them do their jobs better.

Long-Term Employee Development

Continual development ensures employees can take their careers to the next level. By providing employees with the opportunities to gain new skills, take on new responsibilities, and do more challenging projects, employers can help their employees grow their knowledge and experience, which can help them reach their potential.

The Key Benefits of Employee Training

Providing employee training can enhance job satisfaction, boost productivity, and improve employee retention.

Let’s look at five benefits of employee training:

1. Enhanced Productivity and Performance (H3)

Employee training enhances both productivity and performance. According to a survey conducted by TalentLMS and SHRM Research, 80% of employees find training beneficial for their productivity.

Furthermore, 51% of workers believe training increases their confidence and 41% say it improves their time management skills – both of which translate to improved efficiency and output. This increased productivity contributes to overall business performance. Companies are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable when they offer employee training.

2. Improved Employee Skill Sets

Rapid advancements in technology, changing market dynamics, and increased demand for specialized skill sets have made employee training programs more critical than ever.

LinkedIn’s 2023 Workplace Learning Report suggests that skill sets for jobs have changed by around 25% since 2015. By 2027, this number is expected to double. Moreover, 89% of learning and development professionals agree that proactively building skills for today and tomorrow will help companies navigate the future of work.

But what are those skills?

Key growth skills as determined by the World Economic Forum (WEF) include analytical and creative thinking, resilience, flexibility and agility, motivation and self-awareness, curiosity, and lifelong learning. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data rank seventh for skills growing in importance, with a 60% growth in demand predicted by 2027.

3. Increased Job Satisfaction and Morale

Employee training is closely linked to satisfaction and workplace morale. Investing in the growth of employees makes them feel valued and appreciated, which leads to greater engagement, performance, and commitment. Indeed, 68% of employees say training is essential to job satisfaction. Happy employees are also more likely to recommend your company to others.

4. Efficiency and Reduced Wastage

Training can help improve employee knowledge and skills, which can increase your company’s efficiency and identify and eliminate wasteful processes. Trained employees are also more likely to make economical use of company resources, thereby minimizing waste.

5. Strengthened Employee Retention

Many companies are grappling with turnover and retention of critical talent. LinkedIn’s 2023 Workplace Learning Report found that 93% of organizations are worried about keeping their employees.

Digging deeper into the survey, three of the top five reasons that drive people to pursue new jobs are a desire to stretch, grow, and develop new skills. Indeed, learning helps individuals grow and advance into new internal roles and has a significant correlation to retention. Employees who have built their skills and made an internal move are 75% more likely to stay with a company.

It’s no surprise that employers view providing learning opportunities as the number one way they can strengthen employee retention.

Aligning Training with Business Goals

Training is only effective when it aligns with and supports overarching business objectives.

Aligning Training with Organizational Objectives

Learning professionals are collaborating more closely than ever with HR executives and the C-suite to comprehend the company’s objectives and determine the essential skills for employees. According to LinkedIn’s findings, in 2023, 50% of learning professionals were actively engaged with the C-suite, marking an increase from 43% in 2022.

As your organization engages in these discussions, leverage them as an opportunity to pinpoint critical areas of business risk. For instance, various sectors face heightened regulatory scrutiny, necessitating the development of employee skills to mitigate these risks.

Additionally, these discussions should prioritize methods for upskilling your workforce, aiming to elevate the quality of work, minimize risks, and enhance the overall customer experience.

Financial Benefits of Effective Training

Effective training programs can have both direct and indirect financial implications.

Consider the financial burden of replacing staff. The cost of replacing an employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. Moreover, it’s estimated that the United States loses a trillion dollars a year to employee turnover. An employee’s departure also leads to knowledge loss and employee apathy.

Investing in training will make people less likely to quit. Well-executed training programs enhance employee knowledge and proficiency in their roles, making them more valuable to the business and increasing their chances of promotion. This, in turn, contributes to a reduction in overall turnover. Additionally, training can lead to increased productivity, resulting in cost savings for your organization.

Training also gives your company a competitive advantage, helps you reach new customers, and boosts sales. Consider the statistics:

  • The American Society for Training and Development found that companies that invest in employee training have a 24% higher profit margin and higher income per employee (by 218%).
  • 90% of buyers favor buying from sellers who provide them with the right information throughout the sales process.
  • Customers who receive great service from knowledgeable sellers spend 140% more money compared to those who had an unsatisfactory experience with a brand.

Overcoming Challenges in Employee Training

VR Technology in Employee Training: Enhancing Skills and Workplace Adaptation

Employees face many challenges when training employees, including lack of time and budget, resistance to change, alignment with business goals, adapting to remote learning, measuring the return on investment for learning programs, and more.

There are also numerous training options to choose from – in-person, video conferencing, courses, certifications, executive coaching, hands-on projects, to name but a few – and deciding which is best can be difficult.

Identifying and Overcoming Training Challenges

Below are common learning and development challenges and effective strategies to overcome them:

  • Include employees in the planning process: Employees have diverse needs and while you can’t incorporate everything into your training program, soliciting their input can help you develop relevant and engaging training.
  • Set a budget: The amount you spend on training depends on your industry, number of employees, strategic goals, and the skills you are looking to develop. Calculate your budget based on a percentage of salary (5% is a good target) or set aside a specific dollar amount per employee. Look to others in your industry to see what they are spending as a benchmark.
  • Assess training tools: To get the most return out of your budget, research different training methods and tools and talk to your employees about their learning preferences. Some employees will respond better to hands-on training, others to mentoring, and others to online learning. You may need to experiment with different tools and methods before you find the right option for your workforce.
  • Engage employees with multimodal learning programs: Boosting employee engagement poses a significant challenge to successful training initiatives. Ensure the effectiveness of your training by diversifying delivery methods. Consider utilizing multimodal learning. This approach to employee training integrates various sensory modes such as visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic styles. This approach enhances engagement, deepens comprehension, and promotes better retention while accommodating diverse learning preferences. A multimodal learning program might commence with reading an eBook, followed by participation in a webinar or listening to a podcast. It can culminate in kinesthetic learning, encouraging learners to actively engage, such as presenting what they’ve learned to a group.
  • Designate time: Set a time each week for training so that it becomes a part of your employee’s routine responsibilities and not a chore that gets in the way of work.
  • Measure the impact of employee training: Quantifying the results of any training program is tricky. To address this challenge, set clear goals and outcomes for your program. Then use data to track and measure progress. Key performance indicators to consider include employee satisfaction, retention rates, team performance, and financial impacts.
  • Give employees the opportunity to apply knowledge: Give employees the opportunity to apply what they have learned to ensure they don’t forget those teachings. For example, assign projects that incorporate key learnings, encourage employees to share their new skills through mentoring, and so on.

Innovative Approaches to Employee Training

To optimize the benefits of your learning program, make a habit of exploring innovative and modern training approaches, such as applications and online courses. Remember, valuable training content doesn’t always require a substantial budget. Platforms like YouTube and TED Talks offer convenient and cost-effective access to a diverse range of expertise.

Look inside your organization to ensure your program is dynamic and engaging. For example, encourage employee participation by organizing weekly lunch and learns. During these sessions, different team members can share valuable insights, tips, tricks, case studies, and success stories, fostering a more interactive and participatory learning environment.

Other strategies include bringing in guest speakers from local business organizations, colleges, or partner companies.

Why Training is Crucial for Employee Success

Recognition and Promotion in Workplace Post Employee Training

Businesses around the world increasingly recognize why training is important for employees. They are actively fostering learning cultures that empower employees to gain new skills, feel valued, and unlock growth and potential.

Employers also benefit. As you seek to build a more resilient, successful future, training programs can help your company nurture more engaged employees, boost retention, attract top talent, and drive business results.

Acuity offers educational and tuition assistance for employees who sign up for training courses. Requests for assistance are pre-approved by applying for a course and paying for it upfront. Once a course is completed with a C grade or better, the employee can then be reimbursed for the cost of the training up to a certain amount—resulting in a win-win for all. Contact Acuity to learn more.

HIPAA and DOT Physicals: Navigating Medical Privacy in Transportation

DOT physicals ensure the health and safety of commercial vehicle (CMV) drivers and the public. These physicals often involve the disclosure and handling of an employee’s private medical information as well as drug and alcohol testing results, which raises questions about Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws.

However, the rules around HIPAA and DOT physicals are not clear-cut. Although DOT physicals are confidential, DOT law allows any employer or service agent in the DOT drug and alcohol testing program to disclose testing information without the employee’s authorization.

This blog explains medical privacy in the context of HIPAA and DOT physicals, potential overlaps and conflicts, and when drug and alcohol testing information can be disclosed.

Understanding HIPAA

Eye exam in DOT physical illustrating HIPAA compliance

HIPAA is a federal law that establishes standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s knowledge or consent.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a HIPAA Privacy Rule to implement HIPAA requirements. The rule’s standards address the use and disclosure of protected health information (PHI) by covered entities. HIPAA also outlines standards for an individual’s right to understand and control how their health information is used.

The Privacy Rule aims to ensure the proper safeguarding of individuals’ health information while facilitating the necessary flow of such information to deliver and enhance high-quality healthcare. Additionally, it seeks to safeguard public health and well-being.

The Essence of DOT Physicals

Truck driver discussing health habits during DOT physical

A DOT physical exam is required for people who drive commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). To ensure the safety of the public, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules mandate that drivers are physically, mentally, and emotionally fit to perform this demanding role.

A driver must participate in a physical – which includes a drug and alcohol test – to maintain a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL). The exam is valid for 24 months.

Key Requirements for a DOT Physical

A medical examiner performs DOT physicals. During a DOT physical, an employee or job candidate will undergo a series of medical checks and tests including the following:

  • Vision
  • Hearing, blood pressure, and heart rate
  • Urinalysis
  • Physical examination (eyes, skin, general appearance, lung and chest function, neurological indicators, limb function, and more).
  • Drug and alcohol test
  • A sleep apnea test may also be ordered.

The medical examiner will also inquire about family history, medications, tobacco use, and current health problems.

HIPAA and DOT: Where They Intersect

HIPAA privacy laws protect the confidentiality of patient medical records and PHI.

In most cases, an employer or service agent participating in the DOT drug and alcohol testing process is prohibited from releasing individual test results or medical information to third parties without the employee’s written consent.

However, there are exceptions. Medical professionals and facilities involved in the testing process, such as laboratories and Medical Review Officers (MROs), do not need an employee’s written authorization to disclose drug testing information. That’s because, technically, anyone undergoing a drug and alcohol test is not a patient, but a donor. The test is also not considered a medical examination or diagnosis and is not concerned with the preventative, therapeutic, rehabilitative, or mental health of a patient. A DOT drug test is a forensic screening test used to determine if an individual meets DOT safety requirements for operating a CMV.

This conflict often creates confusion among employers and employees who wonder: “Are DOT physicals confidential?” and “Are drug test results confidential under HIPAA?”

Disclosing Drug and Alcohol Testing Information

Laboratory technician conducting blood test for DOT physical

DOT drug and alcohol testing information can be disclosed without violating HIPAA rules under the following conditions:

  • Where disclosing the information is required by the DOT’s rule 49 CFR Part 40 which describes procedures for conducting workplace drug and alcohol testing for the federally regulated transportation industry.
  • Even if drug and alcohol testing information is considered protected under HIPAA rules, employers are not required to obtain written consent from employees if the DOT requires disclosure of this information under the 49 CFR Part 40 rule. Among other things, this means that:
    • Screening test technicians and laboratories can report results to MROs without the written consent of the employee.
    • MROs can also report results to employers, discuss results with prescribing physicians, and confer with Substance Abuse Professionals (SAPs) and evaluating physicians, without the employee’s consent.
  • Employers and service agents can also release testing information to requesting federal, state, and local agencies that have regulatory authority over them or their employees.

Furthermore, during claims litigation following a CMV accident, a claimant can request DOT physical information and medical examiner certificates of the driver involved.

Practical Implications

Drivers who undergo drug and alcohol testing as part of a DOT physical must understand the subtle interpretations of the law. In certain instances, DOT regulatory requirements that govern the safety of drivers and the public take precedence over HIPAA medical privacy and PHI confidentiality rules.

As such, CMV drivers must understand that any testing information can be shared with a prospective or current employer, MROs, and regulatory bodies. This information can be a deciding factor in whether a driver can obtain or retain a CMV license, or even be removed from duty.

Drug and alcohol testing history may also follow an individual to a new employer – if the individual agrees to the release of that information.

Addressing Common Questions About HIPAA and DOT Physicals

Diverse professionals discussing HIPAA and DOT physicals

What does a DOT physical mean in medical terms?

A DOT physical is a medical and screening examination that is performed in accordance with DOT rules. A DOT physical screens employees of covered entities, such as trucking companies, to ensure they can operate a commercial vehicle safely. The exam reviews an individual’s physical health and includes certain tests, such as DOT drug and alcohol testing.

Are DOT physicals confidential?

DOT physicals are confidential, but DOT law allows any employer or service agent in the DOT drug and alcohol testing program to disclose testing information to employers and medical professionals involved in the testing process without the employee’s authorization.

Balancing HIPAA and DOT Physicals

DOT physicals are an essential part of occupational health and safety in industries regulated by the DOT. However, employers and employees must understand the applicability of medical privacy laws, like HIPAA, and when and how DOT regulations override those laws.

Acuity can help employers navigate the complexities of DOT physicals while ensuring compliance with HIPAA rules.

We offer a wide range of workplace DOT physical exam services, including pre-employment, random, reasonable suspicion, DOT drug and alcohol tests, return-to-duty, and follow-up tests.

These services are backed by advanced technology and a widespread provider network to give employers 24/7 access to scheduling, testing status notifications, case management reporting, and more.

Learn more about Acuity’s comprehensive portfolio of Occupational Health Services.

Unveiling the Mystery: What is a Non-Regulated Drug Screen?

Regulated and non-regulated drug testing is a common practice used by employers to screen for substance abuse. Drug testing is an important preventative measure that helps employers maintain a drug-free workplace and minimize the risk of injury or accident – especially if an employee operates heavy equipment or machinery.

Regulated drug testing is a test required by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for workers in regulated industries, such as commercial vehicle drivers. Non-regulated drug screening is a test given to workers in industries not regulated by the DOT, often as a condition of employment.

In this blog, we answer the question “what is a non-regulated drug screen?” and explain what these tests involve, how employers can implement a non-DOT drug testing program, and challenges and considerations for workplace drug screening.

Understanding Non-Regulated Drug Screens

Close-up of urine sample for non-DOT drug test

Let’s look at how non-regulated drug testing differs from DOT-drug testing programs.

Definition and Overview

A non-DOT drug test is implemented by employers as part of a workplace drug screening program. Unlike a regulated drug screen, employers have the freedom to choose the mode of testing – urine, saliva, or hair specimens – and select the drugs they want to test for.

Regulated drug screening, or DOT drug tests, are defined by government regulation, specifically DOT rule, 49 CFT Part 40, which describes procedures for conducting workplace drug and alcohol testing for the federally regulated transportation industry. The ruling applies to employees in the transportation industry who are in safety-sensitive jobs, such as commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers.

Why Non-Regulated Drug Screens are Important

Non-regulated drug screens are an essential part of ensuring workplace safety and efficiency. By filtering out substance abuse, drug testing can reduce risks associated with workplace incidents and potential damages and provide cost savings. It also protects employees and is a deterrent against drug use in the workplace.

In addition, drug screening takes the guesswork out of hiring and promotes a culture of health and wellness.

Types of Non-Regulated Drug Tests

Molecular structures representing drug compounds in non-regulated screens

Non-regulated drug screening is performed at various times during employment. Different types of tests include pre-employment drug tests, random testing, post-accident testing, and return-to-duty tests.

There are a variety of testing methods that employers can use to perform a non-regulated drug screen.

Various Testing Methods

Several methods can be used for non-regulated drug testing, including urine, blood, hair, and saliva tests. Let’s explore these four primary forms of drug tests along with their respective accuracy and detection periods:

  • Urine tests: This method is the most used for drug screening because it is convenient, painless, and cost-effective. Results are typically available within a few days, sometimes even on the same day. However, urine tests have a limited detection window, usually ranging from five to ten days after the sample collection.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests offer high accuracy and can swiftly detect illicit substances within minutes or hours. Nevertheless, they tend to be expensive and inconvenient.
  • Hair follicle tests: Considered more reliable than other drug testing forms, such as urine and blood tests, hair follicle drug screening takes advantage of the fact that drugs and their metabolites persist in the hair as it grows. This method can identify the use of various substances like cocaine, amphetamines, opioids, methamphetamines, PCP, and others. Detection times vary, with scalp hair having a window of three months and body hair extending up to a year.
  • Saliva tests: An effective alternative to urine testing, saliva tests serve as a useful backup if an individual cannot provide an adequate urine sample. They can detect drugs within a short timeframe, typically within 48 hours.

Common Drugs Test in Non-Regulated Screens

Some of the drugs that non-regulated drug tests screen for include:

  • Opiates, amphetamines, and narcotics
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Barbiturates and benzodiazepines
  • Marijuana
  • Antidepressants
  • Stimulants

The most common form of non-DOT drug screen is the five-panel test that detects cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, opioids, and PCP.

Implementing Non-Regulated Drug Screens in the Workplace

Professional non-regulated drug screening in a workplace setting

Setting up a workplace drug screening program involves careful planning and implementation to ensure compliance with regulations, fairness, and accuracy.

Setting Up a Drug Screening Program

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you establish a workplace drug screening program:

  1. Observe legal compliance: Research and understand local, state, and federal laws regarding workplace drug testing. Ensure that your program aligns with legal requirements and regulations.
  2. Define program objectives: Clearly define the objectives of your drug screening program. Determine whether you are implementing pre-employment testing, random testing, post-accident testing, or a combination.
  3. Develop a written policy: Create a comprehensive written drug-free workplace policy. Clearly communicate the purpose of the program, the types of tests used, consequences for positive results, and employees’ rights and responsibilities.
  4. Provide employee education: Educate employees about the drug-free workplace policy. Make sure they understand the reasons for testing, the procedures involved, and the potential consequences of a positive result.
  5. Select a testing method: Choose the appropriate testing methods for your program. Common methods include urine testing, blood testing, hair follicle testing, and saliva testing. Consider the nature of your workplace and the specific drugs you want to detect.
  6. Choose a testing vendor: Select a reputable, certified drug testing vendor. Ensure they comply with industry standards, maintain data privacy, and provide accurate and timely results.
  7. Establish testing procedures: Clearly outline the procedures for collecting and handling samples, maintaining confidentiality, and ensuring the integrity of the testing process. Train designated staff members on proper procedures.
  8. Employ a randomization process: If implementing random testing, establish a fair and unbiased process for selecting employees. This helps ensure that all eligible employees have an equal chance of being selected.
  9. Include a Medical Review Officer: Consider hiring a Medical Review Officer (MRO) or work with a testing partner who has a network of MROs to help interpret and review test results. An MRO ensures that there are no false positives and provides a confidential channel for employees to discuss prescription medications.
  10. Communicate results: Develop a clear process for communicating test results to employees. Respect confidentiality and provide a mechanism for employees to dispute or verify results if needed.

Benefits of Drug Screening for Employers

Drug addiction is one of the most prevalent health issues in the United States. In addition to impacting an individual’s well-being, substance use disorders (SUDs) can have profound impacts in the workplace. According to data from Recovery Centers of America, 70% of people who use illegal drugs are employed either full or part-time and 75% of them remain untreated.

In addition to health and safety concerns, SUDs inflict an annual cost of $81 billion on employers, covering healthcare expenses, disability and worker’s compensation, recruitment costs, and more.

Moreover, it is claimed that employees who test positive for drug and alcohol use are 10 to 60 percent less productive than persons who test negative.

Given these potential impacts, many employers are opting to screen job candidates and employees for drug use. Non-regulated drug screening enhances workplace safety, minimizes absenteeism, saves money, and improves employee performance and productivity.

Challenges and Considerations

Despite the benefits of non-regulated drug testing in the workplace, screening employees for drug use raises ethical, privacy, and accuracy concerns.

Ethical and Privacy Concerns

Workplace drug screening ethical and privacy concerns include the sharing of drug test data without the employee’s consent.

Be sure to research and understand local, state, and federal laws regarding workplace drug testing. Ensure that your program aligns with legal requirements and regulations, particularly as it pertains to data privacy.

To enjoy the benefits of drug testing while respecting the rights of employees, consider partnering with a non-regulated drug testing provider. Select one who understands federal, state, and local laws and requirements, always ensures the security and confidentiality of employee data, and has a network of professional, licensed MROs who can act as impartial gatekeepers and advocate for the accuracy and integrity of the drug testing process.

Remember, transparency, fairness, and consistency are essential elements of a successful workplace drug screening program. Regularly communicate with employees, address their concerns, and emphasize the program’s commitment to a safe and healthy work environment.

Accuracy and Reliability of Results

Non-regulated drug screens are very accurate. And, because a health professional collects the sample, the results cannot be tampered with. However, there may be challenges such as false positives and false negatives.

If an employee suspects a false positive result, they may request a second test of the same specimen sample. Understand that false positives can occur and be willing to accommodate the request.

If, as an employer, you encounter a false negative but have suspicions, confirmatory testing should be requested to determine if it is a false or true negative.

Conclusion: The Role of Non-Regulated Drug Screens in Modern Workplaces

Non-regulated drug screening is a simple way to ensure a safe and productive workforce. These tests can be applied to many use cases, including pre-employment screening, random testing, return-to-work testing, and post-accident testing.

If you are looking to begin a non-regulated drug screening program in your organization, look no further than the experts at Acuity International. We offer in-depth drug test screening for all organizations and industries, including companies that must comply with Department of Transportation drug screening regulations.

Contact Acuity today to learn more.

Understanding What a Pre-Employment Blood Test is For: A Comprehensive Guide

A pre-employment blood test is an essential screening practice that ensures the safety and productivity of employees and the public. A blood test can be performed to determine whether prospective new hires have consumed alcohol or drugs, both prescription and illicit.

In this blog, we answer the question “What is a pre-employment drug test for?” We also explore how these blood tests are performed, common substances tested for, the legality of drug testing, and more.

Understanding the Purpose of Pre-Employment Blood Tests

Technician analyzing blood samples for common substances in pre-employment testing

Implementing a pre-employment blood testing program can help employers maintain a drug and alcohol-free workplace while ensuring adherence to government regulations, including those set forth by U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) laws.

By filtering out drug and alcohol use, pre-employment blood testing minimizes the risks associated with workplace incidents but also serves as a deterrent for substance abuse. This proactive approach can lead to a reduction in potential liabilities, translating into substantial cost savings.

In addition, pre-employment blood testing takes the guesswork out of hiring, reduces absenteeism, increases worker productivity and performance, and promotes a culture of health and wellness.

The Role of Drug Testing in Employment

Drug addiction is among the most common health conditions in America. In addition to affecting a person’s health, relationships, and finances, the impact of substance use disorders (SUDs) also extends to the workplace. According to Recovery Centers of America, 70% of people who use illegal drugs are employed either full or part-time, and 75% of those people don’t receive treatment.

In addition to productivity losses, SUDs are costly for employers. Recovered.org (formerly The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) estimates that addiction costs employers $81 billion each year in healthcare expenses, disability and worker’s compensation, recruitment expenses, and more.

For these reasons, pre-employment drug screening is an important component of the applicant hiring process. In fact, many employers, such as those regulated by the DOT as well as safety-sensitive industries, including hospitals, first responders, and construction, test candidates for drug use before extending an offer.

Common Substances Tested in Pre-Employment Drug Tests

Some of the drugs that pre-employment drug tests detect include:

  • Opiates, amphetamines, and narcotics: Drugs like cocaine can be highly addictive when used regularly and in large quantities.
  • Phencyclidine (PCP): A street drug, also known as angel dust, PCP is a hallucinogen that can distort vision and hearing, and create feelings of detachment.
  • Barbiturates and benzodiazepines: Including medications used to treat anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc.
  • Marijuana
  • Antidepressants: Side effects can include nausea, dizziness, and fatigue.
  • Stimulants: Often prescribed for ADHD and other disorders, these substances can lead to increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and other serious side effects.

The most common pre-employment drug test is the five-panel test that detects cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, opioids, and PCP.

Different Types of Drug Testing Specimens

Diverse employees discussing workplace safety and drug-free environment.

There are a variety of methods used for drug testing, including urine, blood, hair, and saliva tests. Let’s look at these four primary forms of drug tests and the accuracy and detection period of each test:

  • Urine tests: A urine drug screen is the most used drug test method. They are painless, easy, and cost-effective. Typically, the results become available within a few days, and in some instances, they can be obtained on the same day. However, urine testing has a small window for detection. Most substances can only be detected for five to ten days after the sample was collected.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests are very accurate and can detect illicit substances in a matter of minutes or hours. However, they are costly and inconvenient.
  • Hair follicle tests: Hair follicle drug screening is far more reliable than any other form of drug testing, including urine and blood sample analysis. That’s because drugs and drug metabolites remain in the hair as it grows. These tests can detect the use of cocaine, amphetamines, opioids, methamphetamines, PCP, and other drugs. Detection times vary from three months for scalp hair to up to a year for body hair.
  • Saliva tests: A saliva test is an effective alternative to urine testing and is a useful backup if an individual fails to provide sufficient urine. Saliva tests detect drugs within a short time frame, typically within 48 hours. The DOT recently authorized the use of oral fluid testing as part of employer DOT drug testing programs. The choice of whether to conduct an oral fluid or a urine test is up to the employer.
Lawyer reviewing legal documents of pre-employment drug testing

Most states permit employers to test job applicants for drugs or alcohol, although the legality of testing varies by state. Furthermore, the specific guidelines and protocols for these tests are typically established by the employer in compliance with state employment regulations.

Note: Industries regulated by the DOL and DOT are required by law to test job candidates for drugs and alcohol.

Best Practices for Pre-Employment Drug Testing

The following best practices can help employers administer legal and fair pre-employment blood tests:

  • Job applicants must be informed about the inclusion of drug or alcohol testing in the interview process.
  • Tests must be carried out by a state-certified lab and reviewed by a Medical Review Officer (MRO).
  • Equal opportunity laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require that all applicants for the same position must undergo the same type of drug test.
  • Employers must treat employee health information as confidential in accordance with HIPAA and the ADA. All applicant information, including personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), and test results should remain confidential. Drug and alcohol test results should only be shared on a need-to-know basis with the relevant department.

The Importance of Partnering with Occupational Health Providers

While many urgent care providers offer pre-employment drug testing services, they may not possess the expertise required to conduct a comprehensive range of tests, such as urine, blood, hair follicle, saliva, and others to ensure compliance with government regulations. Moreover, these providers lack the capability and scale to offer the essential support and assistance that employers require. This includes aiding in developing a drug testing program, real-time test tracking and reporting, data management and secure transmission, and physician medical review services, among others.

By working with a specialized health provider for drug and alcohol testing (DAT), employers can implement an accurate, compliant, flexible, and scalable program that meets their unique needs and risks. These services should be backed by robust case management, tracking, and secure HIPAA-compliant reporting services.

Occupational health providers also offer comprehensive support, including subject matter expertise, guidance, program management, and training on implementing pre-employment drug testing programs.

For additional flexibility, employers should seek out a provider who can perform testing onsite or via mobile occupational health clinics.

Additional Pre-Employment Tests and Screenings

Additional pre-employment tests and screenings may be required for specific jobs and industries, especially if the position is physically demanding. In such cases, it is advisable to conduct pre-employment physical exams. These tests evaluate several factors, including:

  • Physical ability (including the ability to perform certain functions required for the position, such as lifting or aerobic activity)
  • Vital functions (heart, vision, hearing, etc.)
  • Mental health, emotional, psychological, and cognitive function
  • Strength, stamina, and physical endurance

Other tests include respirator fit exams and COVID testing.

Preparing for a Pre-Employment Blood Test: What to Expect

Healthcare professionals conducting a comprehensive health screening in a modern clinic

To prepare for a pre-employment blood test, job applicants should follow these steps:

  • Bring a photo ID to the collection site.
  • Complete all relevant paperwork accurately (paying special attention to reporting prescriptions and prescription drug use, including dosage).
  • For urine tests, drink plenty of water beforehand. The test requires 45 milliliters of urine. If an individual can’t produce sufficient urine the collector will provide a reasonable amount of fluids to drink during a period of time up to three hours.

Once collected, the sample will be sent to a state-certified lab for testing and review by an MRO.

Pre-Employment Blood Tests: An Essential Screening in the Modern Workplace

Prioritizing workplace safety is paramount for any company, and one effective measure to mitigate risks linked to drug and alcohol misuse is the implementation of pre-employment drug tests. By clearly stating on a job application that a job offer could depend on the outcome of a drug test, an employer can discourage individuals with substance abuse issues from applying in the first place.

This is especially crucial for roles in safety-sensitive environments. Pre-employment drug testing plays a critical role in ensuring compliance with DOT and DOL regulations, minimizing workplace accidents and injuries, and reducing the frequency and cost of expensive workers’ compensation claims related to drug or alcohol use.

If you are looking to start or optimize your pre-employment blood testing program, contact us to learn more about how Acuity can help. We combine our pre-employment drug and alcohol testing services with advanced technology and a widespread provider network to give organizations 24/7 access to scheduling, exam status notifications, case management reporting, and more.

We also provide comprehensive pre-employment physical exam services so you can be assured that a job candidate does not have physical limitations or an existing medical condition that would prevent them from performing a job.

Learn more about Acuity’s comprehensive portfolio of Occupational Health Services.

Navigating the Maze: When is Return to Duty Testing Required?

When is return to duty testing required? A RTD test is part of the return-to-work process for employees in safety-sensitive industries who have tested positive for drug and/or alcohol use or have violated workplace drug and alcohol policy.

In this blog, we explain the RTD process, who must take the test, and the importance of treatment and follow-up testing.

Understanding the Return-to-Duty Process

Workplace incident leading to when is return to duty testing required

Statistics show that more than 70% of Americans dealing with drug or alcohol addiction are employed. These employees pose significant health and safety risks to their employers, co-workers, and the public. If they violate workplace drug and alcohol policy or work in a safety-sensitive job, they may find themselves removed from duty.

Fortunately, RTD testing gives employees a second chance.

Incidents Leading to RTD Testing

There are three circumstances that can trigger an RTD test in safety-sensitive industries.

  1. Positive drug/alcohol test: U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulation requires that any employee in a safety-sensitive position who tests positive for drug or alcohol on a random drug test or based or a reasonable suspicion test must be removed from duty. The individual must then complete a drug and alcohol treatment program under the supervision of a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP). A negative RTD test result must be recorded before they can return to work.
  2. Violation of a drug or alcohol rule or policy: Violations may include possession of drugs or alcohol at work or transporting drugs or alcohol while operating a commercial vehicle. In these circumstances, the employee must be removed from duty, complete a drug and alcohol treatment program, and undergo an RTD test.
  3. Refusal: If an employee refuses to take a random drug test or reasonable suspicion test, they may be removed from duty. To return to duty, they must complete a drug and alcohol treatment program and undergo an RTD drug test.

Steps in the RTD Process

The RTD process encompasses the following steps:

Step 1: Removal from duty

An employee must be immediately removed from duty following a workplace drug or alcohol violation or positive drug/alcohol test as confirmed by a Medical Review Officer (MRO). The MRO must also report the violation to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

Step 2: SAP evaluation

If the employee wishes to return to work, they must submit to an evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP). The employer must provide the employee with a list of DOT-approved SAPs.

Following the face-to-face assessment of the employee, the SAP will establish a drug and alcohol treatment program.

Step 3: Completion of treatment

Once the treatment is complete, the assigned SAP will review the employee’s progress and determine if they are ready to take an RTD test and return to work upon a negative result. The SAP may also recommend continued counseling as part of any follow-up care.

If the employee fails to complete treatment or requires additional evaluation or treatment, the SAP will not clear them for return to work.

Step 4: Reporting

The SAP will communicate their findings to the employer, providing details on the employee’s progress in treatment and the number of follow-up drug tests required.

Step 5: RTD test

After examining the report, the employer is required to arrange an RTD drug test for the employee. The test should be performed under direct supervision to ensure an untampered result. To pass the RTD test, the employee must exhibit the following results:

  • Alcohol concentration of less than 0.02; and/or
  • Controlled substances with a result indicating a verified negative result for drug use.

Employers must notify the FMCSA Clearinghouse of successful treatment completion and negative test results. Follow-up test results must also be reported to the FMCSA.

Role of the Substance Abuse Professional

Substance Abuse Professional's role in determining when return to duty testing is required

A Substance Abuse Professional or SAP is a medical professional who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation.

To become an SAP, the individual must pass the Certified Substance Abuse Program Administrator (C-SAPA) exam. Once certified, an SAP can make recommendations concerning employee treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.

Importantly, an SAP doesn’t advocate for the employee or the employer. Their main task is to protect the public. After all, the decisions they make determine whether to place an employee behind the wheel of a truck, in an aircraft cockpit, or at the throttle of a train.

As part of their duties, SAPs must be knowledgeable of DOT procedures for transportation workplace drug and alcohol testing programs (49 CFR Part 40), including substance abuse return to duty processes, employee confidentiality laws, and more.

Finding a Qualified SAP

As part of the RTD process, employers are required to provide employees with a list of SAPs qualified in accordance with DOT Rule 49 CFR Part 40 Section 40.281.

If the employer does not provide a list, employees can search the internet using terms such as “DOT qualified SAP.”

Post-Treatment and Return-to-Work

Employee's return to work after passing the required return to duty testing

Following treatment and return-to-work the employee must submit to a series of follow-up RTD tests as recommended by the SAP.

Types of Drug and Alcohol Tests Post-Treatment

In addition to the initial RTD test, the SAP will establish the number of tests required after treatment and return to work based on regulatory requirements or company policy. DOT law requires a minimum of six unannounced, random tests during the first 12 months following resumption of work.

These tests must be conducted under direct observation. All results must be reported to the FMCSA Clearinghouse.

Common Questions About RTD Testing

What are the steps for RTD?

The RTD process includes:

• Evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP)
• Completion of a treatment program
• RTD drug and/or alcohol testing
• Follow-up testing (as required by law or company policy)

What do you need an SAP for?

An SAP or Substance Abuse Professional is a certified medical professional who evaluates employees and recommends substance abuse treatment programs and follow-up RTD testing.  

Employers in DOT-regulated industries are required to refer employees to an SAP following removal from duty due to a drug or alcohol violation. However, SAPs can assist any employer in managing and administering their return-to-work drug programs.

What does returned to duty mean?

An employee is returned to duty after completing treatment for a workplace drug and alcohol policy violation and passing a drug and/or alcohol test. Follow-up random testing may also be required.

Unraveling the Mystery: Why “When is Return to Duty Testing Required” Matters

RTD testing is vital to ensuring a safe and compliant workplace. When is RTD testing required? Employees in safety-sensitive and regulated industries must undergo RTD testing following a positive drug/alcohol test, violation of a workplace drug or alcohol rule or policy, or refusal to submit to a random drug/alcohol test.

At Acuity, we offer a wide range of workplace drug and alcohol testing services, both for regulated and non-regulated industries, including pre-employment, random, reasonable suspicion, DOT drug and alcohol tests, RTD, and follow-up tests.

These services are backed by advanced technology and a widespread provider network to give employers 24/7 access to scheduling, testing status notifications, case management reporting, and more.

Learn more about Acuity’s comprehensive portfolio of Occupational Health Services.