History of the NRC's Fitness-for-Duty Requirements

Origins of NRC Requirements

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and commercial nuclear power industry began addressing concerns about the potential public health and safety impacts of fitness-for-duty (FFD) problems at nuclear power plants in the 1970s. Most nuclear utilities voluntarily implemented FFD programs during the 1980s, and the NRC monitored the comprehensiveness and effectiveness of these programs. In August 1986, the NRC published a policy statement outlining the need for nuclear power plant licensees to implement programs to address FFD problems—including illegal drug use, alcohol abuse, misuse of legal drugs, and any other mental or physical problems that could impair job performance. An evaluation of licensee programs following the implementation of the policy statement indicated a wide range in the quality and comprehensiveness of FFD programs in the nuclear industry, resulting in an NRC decision for rulemaking. After publishing a proposed FFD rule and responding to more than 3,000 public comments on this draft rule, the NRC published the final rule, entitled "Fitness-for-Duty Programs," in a Federal Register Notice on June 7, 1989 [54 FR 24468].

A Comprehensive Approach

The NRC's FFD requirements differed from FFD programs required by other Federal agencies in several ways. First, relative to other Federal workplace programs that concentrated on drug testing, the NRC's rule required its licensees to implement comprehensive FFD programs to address a full range of other worker fitness issues as well as drug abuse. The NRC's regulations aimed at ensuring that nuclear power plant personnel would perform their tasks in a reliable and trustworthy manner and would not be mentally or physically impaired from any cause. In addition, the NRC's rule differed from related requirements in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs (HHS Guidelines) by –

  • Requiring testing for alcohol use at levels that would indicate the tested individual could be impaired, in addition to testing for drugs;
  • Permitting NRC licensees' FFD programs to use lower cut-off levels for drug testing than those prescribed in the HHS Guidelines; and
  • Permitting nuclear power plant licensees to perform screening tests on site.

After the NRC's rule went into effect in 1989 and during the process of review and revision to the rule, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other Federal agencies made substantial changes to their programs—including changes to cut-off levels for drug testing, the addition of alcohol testing, and more comprehensive attention to a range of other FFD issues. There were also substantial changes in the testing technologies available for drug and alcohol testing programs. Techniques for subverting the testing process and for combating those techniques also multiplied and became more sophisticated.

Although the original rule required licensees to address fatigue as an FFD problem, it did not impose specific limits on work hours beyond those that some licensees had incorporated into their technical specifications in response to Generic Letter 82-12, "Nuclear Power Plant Staff Working Hours". Reports of excessive overtime, especially among security personnel after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), reached the NRC. The events of 9/11 also highlighted a need to strengthen the NRC's requirements for granting unescorted access to protected and vital areas in nuclear facilities. These changes in the context within which the nuclear industry operated, and others, resulted in a very long and complex rulemaking process that produced a new rule in 2008. The major changes in this new rule include:

  • Requirements, including work-hour controls, for nuclear power plant licensees to manage fatigue;
  • More detailed requirements for FFD programs during construction of new nuclear power plants;
  • Improved coordination with the NRC's regulations for granting unescorted access to nuclear power plant protected and vital areas;
  • Updated drug testing requirements to align with updated requirements in the HHS Guidelines, including new requirements to address the potential for subversion of the testing process; and
  • Re-organization of the rule to make the ordering of requirements more consistent with the implementation of licensee processes.

The new NRC FFD rule became effective on April 30, 2008. However, the NRC gave licensees and other entities the option to defer implementation of the rule, except for Subpart I (fatigue management), until March 31, 2009. Licensees and other entities must implement Subpart I by October 1, 2009. Implementation of Subpart K was not deferred from April 30, 2008.

If you would like to provide comments about our program or contact someone in NRC about the FFD Program, please contact us.

To learn about future meetings on Part 26, see our public meetings schedule page.


Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, September 16, 2020