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Industry News: How Is The Construction Industry Affected By Drug Abuse?

Published on: April 11, 2017

Written by: Janet Russell.

Construction companies should be able to look into improving their revenues by checking on their operations. Financial losses due to alcohol and drug abuse may reach billions of dollars. It is not uncommon in industries such as the construction industry for some of its employees to be hooked on drugs or alcohol due to the nature of their jobs.

However, employees may look at drug use as a means for them to sustain long working hours, without regard for the risk of meeting accidents within the workplace and some other minor mishaps that could affect the company as a whole. This is the reason why a lot of individuals with drug and alcohol abuse problems come from the workforce.

Construction workers who abuse illicit substances are dangerous to the general public. It is with this reason that many construction firms across the country aim for a better workforce by addressing substance abuse within the workplace and eliminating its potentially dangerous consequences.

Brief Background on Drug Abuse in the Construction Industry

Federal law dictates that individuals who work in critical sectors such as the construction industry should undergo drug testing to ensure a safe and healthy workplace.

It has been reported that the construction industry is among the sectors of the workforce with the highest rates of alcohol and drug abuse. Among construction workers aged 18-49 years old:

  • More than 12% were reported to have used illicit drug during the past 30 days.
  • Almost 21% were reported to have used illicit drugs during the past year.

Having said that, it is clear how many construction workers are deeply involved with substance abuse, which could cause alarm to everyone.

The Effects of Drug Abuse in the Construction Industry

drug testing construction industry

Drug abuse should never be tolerated in any way, most especially when it means having to work on a job that can affect the general public. These individuals may not realize how much risk they are putting everyone into, and that grabbing another mug of cold beer or snorting drugs as their means of relaxation could lead to disaster.

Whether employees are unaware of the consequences or they just simply care less about their health or other people’s welfare, substance abuse should not be tolerated in any company because it may affect a lot of lives.

1. Safety in the workplace

All workers are required to report for work wearing their construction gear. While wearing hard hats could protect them from minor impacts of falling debris, a construction worker who is heavily intoxicated with either drugs or alcohol may have poor decision making. As a result, falling off the building or miscalculating steps in going from one place to another may lead to an unrepairable damage and even death.

Anyone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol may become short-tempered or out of reason. Workers who may take illicit substances during break time can also pose danger to fellow workers. With alcohol or drug abuse, the likelihood of miscommunication may rise, leading to heated arguments and untoward incidents such as getting into fights.

2. Public safety

Public safety is a growing concern because of the imminent dangers to individuals. It is vital to implement measures to ensure public security so that health and daily life is always maintained. It is necessary to ensure that all precautions are made.

See Also: Drug & Alcohol Testing in the Construction Industry

Allowing workers to report for work under the influence of drugs or alcohol opens up the possibility of incurring dangers that may harm the public. The danger can be even greater with the general public.

3. Work productivity

The construction industry is male-dominated, and workers may find themselves hanging out with each other after the day’s work. Some construction supervisors may even be chilling bottles of beer to share among all workers after working hours. Some would even take a bottle or two during lunch breaks.

When this happens, their form of relaxation through drinking alcohol or using drugs may become a social behavior. When this goes on repeatedly, it becomes a habit that leads to drug abuse or addiction.

With addiction, the productivity of workers may be affected. They may either miss work days, come in late, or even feel sleepy while at work.

4. Quality of work

Reporting without the right kind of attitude expected from a worker affects the quality of work. There are instances wherein miscalculation of measurements or using a different type of material may happen, which may lead to compromise in terms of building strength or work output. Because of this, the quality of work may also result to endangering the lives of people.

5. Financial costs for the company

Being in the construction industry, the length of work for each phase is dictated by a timeline. Not being able to get the job done right on schedule would affect the contractor financially. When drug abuse comes into play, it will definitely bring losses to the company.

In addition, workplace accidents or injuries would also mean that companies will be burdened with high insurance claims. This is why some companies would not include coverage of any drug or alcohol-related accidents or injuries.

Federal Laws and Regulations

construction industry employee safety

Private companies are not required to implement a drug-free workplace policy but federal contractors and grantees, as well as safety- and security-sensitive industries are obliged to adhere by the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. With the help of this federal regulation, employers are able to come up with company policies, which include the desire to maintain a drug-free workplace.

A drug-free workplace policy ensures that each employee is given complete information on the dangers and consequences of alcohol and drug abuse. This move does not only protect the employees but can also have a huge positive impact towards the company in terms of productivity, health insurance claims, and business credibility.

Read More About the Drug Free Workplace Act

Companies that promote a drug-free workplace increase client trust whereby individuals are more encouraged to patronize the products and services of the company.

It is any employer’s moral obligation to keep the workplace as safe and as healthy as possible to help employees work in the manner they are expected to do. This cannot be emphasized enough, especially for sensitive jobs such as those in the construction industry.

Facts and Figures on Drug Abuse

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), alcohol and drug abuse has been affecting the construction industry in a way that it has decreased productivity, aggravated workplace accidents and injuries, increased equipment and machinery costs, worsen absenteeism rates, decreased morale, and elevated the risk of illnesses.

Below are the rates of substance abuse among different personnel within the construction industry:

PositionCurrent Illicit

Drug Use (%)

Past Year Illicit Drug Use (%)Current Heavy Alcohol Use (%)
Construction Laborers12.825.419.9
Construction Supervisors17.225.912.7
Other Construction Workers17.323.420.6

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported that almost 18% of all fatalities in 2011 were from the construction industry. The most common causes of fatalities were:

  • Falls
  • Being stuck by an object
  • Being trapped between objects
  • Electrocution

Workplace Drug Testing

worker safety in construction industry

Under federal law, the construction industry is among those that require employees to undergo workplace drug testing. The importance of workplace drug testing should not be neglected as it could mean saving lives.

Prior to hiring, a pre-employment drug testing may be required to applicants. The basis of hiring a prospective employee is based not only on skills needed or the educational attainment, but also on the results of the interview as well as medical test results. It is important that employers should know any prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications or herbal supplements that the applicant may be taking, so as to distinguish the cause of a possible positive result.

Drug testing may be done in different times depending on the need:

  • pre-employment drug testing
  • random drug testing
  • return-to-work drug testing

Standard urine drug tests conducted in the construction industry can detect the following substances:

  • Amphetamines
  • Cannabis
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates
  • Phencyclidine

Drug testing is performed under the supervision of a Medical Review Officer. This person is a licensed physician who is able to interpret the results and provide other pertinent information about the condition of an applicant or employee.

A urine sample is collected and divided into two containers. Should a urine sample result to a positive drug test, it is sent to another certified laboratory within 72 hours.

If the result turns out to be positive, the MRO would need to discuss it with the applicant or employee, who will be asked if there were other medications that the person is taking. If so, then the result may be deemed a false positive and will be reported to the employer as negative. However, a positive result will prohibit the applicant from being hired.

Prior to subjecting any applicant or existing employee to any drug test, the drug-free workplace policy should be clearly explained to each individual. Employees are required to sign on the printed policy document to denote that they have been informed on what the policy is all about.

The policy should also include vital information about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse and its consequences.

An Employment Assistance Program (EAP) is also included as part of the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. In this program, all employees are required to attend seminars and workshops to know about the dangers of alcohol or drug abuse. Employees who are found to be positive with either alcohol or drugs are referred to rehabilitation centers where they will undergo therapy or treatment.

Through this program, the company allows the employees an opportunity to live a “straight” life by encouraging them to stay healthy and clean from any substance abuse. This effort uplifts the spirits of employees who have the opportunity to work and be accepted like any other worker.

Final Word

It is important for the construction industry at every level to become vigilant on alcohol and drug abuse. A very efficient drug testing and treatment program should be able to help individuals avoid getting hooked on these substances before it goes out of proportion and affect the workplace. Drug testing should not be seen as an invasion of one’s right to privacy, but rather as a precautionary measure from possible dangers such as workplace accidents and injuries.

Companies in the construction industry may avoid having to deal with negative turnarounds and increase the morale of workers, which in turn increases trust and credibility.

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