Third Largest US Refinery Pioneers Innovative Safety Program

Progressive Thinking at BP Texas City Spreads Throughout Industry

In an industry where safety is paramount, one Texas oil refinery is leading the charge with an innovative drug testing program. BP takes pride in their strong commitment to provide a safe workplace for employees and other persons working or visiting their refinery sites, and drug testing is one of the methods put in place to ensure that safety is a priority. For employers, especially with workers in safety sensitive positions, it is critical to identify and screen out illicit drug users. Studies have shown that not doing so results in increased healthcare costs and accidents, along with lost productivity and absenteeism.

BP Texas City, the third largest refinery in the US, pioneered a hair drug testing program in 2007 that required contractors working in the refinery to pass a drug test before they were approved to enter the plant. The refinery had already seen the impact that the hair drug testing program had on their employees, and wanted to extend the added safety measure to the thousands of contractors allowed access to the site.

A typical hair test identifies drug use for months, as opposed to urinalysis, which typically only detects drug use from the past few days and sometimes as little as hours. Users cannot “beat the system” by abstaining from drug use in the days leading up to the test, or take evasive action by adulterating or tampering with the test.

The need for the more rigorous testing was confirmed when the positive rate for the BP Texas City contractors jumped from under 4% with urine, to an 8.9% positive rate with hair testing in the first month of the program. Perhaps the biggest eye opener was the fact that 74% of the positive tests were for cocaine use. As the program continued and it became widely know that they required a hair test, the number of contractors testing positive for drugs steadily declined. In 2011, BP Texas City reported their lowest drug positive rates ever and one of their best incident rates ever.

Recognizing the impact that this program could have on the entire industry, James Bergeron, HSSE Contractor Safety Coordinator for BP Texas City, partnered with Psychemedics Corporation (the world’s leading drug testing company using hair for the detection of drugs of abuse) and championed the creation of the VECTOR program.

VECTOR (Vendor Employer Compliance Testing Organization) is a tool that ensures contractor compliance with the testing requirements, and meets the comprehensive needs of all refinery owners involved in this program. With James’ lead, VECTOR was created by gathering input from many other industry refineries and leaders and built to meet the site specific needs. By providing a centralized resource of the site status of the individuals who require a drug test within the industry, VECTOR reduces costs and eliminates unnecessary testing among all of the refineries.

“VECTOR gives owners the flexibility to have their own policy and use testing requirements as they see fit,” James said. “It gives contractors all the tools they need to manage their drug screen program and eliminates the middle person which is a huge cost savings for the owners and contractor.”

A pre-dominant amount of oil companies who are already using Psychemedics hair testing for their own employees now see the value of rolling the program into contractor testing as well and replacing urine testing. The benefits are quickly realized when an average of 5-10 times more drug users are identified with the hair test.

According to Ron Sokol, President and CEO of the Texas City Safety Council, “The Vector program is one of the most innovative Drug & Alcohol (D&A) programs to serve the Owner and Contractor community in years. The program utilizes state of the art hair testing methodology combined with urine testing for immediate post accident or for cause results. The flexibility built into the Vector process allows for a greater return of investment for Owners and Contractors due to the ability of the system to verify Owner D&A guidelines for compliance from a previous administered test resulting in a huge cost savings for the industry.”

What started as an innovative program designed to improve the safety and costs at the BP Texas City refinery is now transitioning into an industry wide program. The progressive thinking of one refinery leader has spiraled and caused additional refineries to look toward how they too can improve the safety of their plant by enhancing their drug testing program with VECTOR.