Workplace drug and alcohol testing is such a controversial subject that many small companies tend to ignore it altogether. But regulations based on the 1991 Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act, demanding random and regular testing of certain employees, went into effect just last month. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that the new rules will affect about 300,000 small companies.

The regulations will apply to all companies that employ safety-sensitive workers -- those who drive vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds (cement trucks, for instance, or city delivery trucks), transporting more than 15 passengers, or carrying hazardous waste. Employers of such workers must create substance-abuse policies, arrange for random testing for alcohol and five classes of drugs, provide training for supervisors and written communication for safety-sensitive employees, and abide by specific record-keeping and reporting requirements.

Violating those rules can cost you up to $10,000 a day in fines. A bureaucratic nightmare? You bet. How will small companies cost-effectively comply with the new rules? The marketplace may come to the rescue. Look for an increase in private consortia that combine employees from several small companies into one large random testing pool, perform the testing, provide the educational materials and training required by the Department of Transportation (DOT), and offer employee-assistance programs. Don Rothschild, whose Lakewood, Colo., UA Express does exactly that, says he expects companies like his to "pop up like mushrooms in spring" in the coming months. In the meantime, for more specifics on the regulations, call the DOT's Drug Enforcement and Program Compliance Information Line (800-225-3784).

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