Even under the best circumstances construction work is inherently dangerous. Unfortunately, it also has one of the highest rates of drug and alcohol use among all industries.
The most recent statistics demonstrate that illegal drug and alcohol use is a serious issue for the construction industry, with 12.3 percent of the construction work population reporting drug use and 15.7 percent reporting heavy alcohol use versus 7.8 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively, for the general population [Source: The 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse]. The role that alcohol and drugs play in a construction workplace accident varies depending on the study, with figures as high as 50 percent according to a study by the National Council on Compensation and Insurance and Cornell University.
Though the loss of life is the most serious consequence of substance abuse, other direct and indirect costs also result from drug and alcohol use by construction workers. Some of these include on-the-job accidents, legal expenses, medical insurance claims, employee theft, fraud and workers' compensation claims. Behaviors resulting from drug and alcohol use also detract from the bottom line and can include errors in judgment, poor job performance, low motivation and, in turn, low morale among co-workers on a site where substance use is tolerated. Ultimately, any cost from substance abuse, whether direct or indirect, is going to have a negative impact on a contractor's bottom line.
What Can be Done?
A comprehensive, drug-free workplace policy and program should be a component of any company's safety program. Just as you would not want an employee 20 feet up on scaffolding without proper fall protection, you should not want employees working on a job site that is not free from drugs and alcohol. Consider a drug free workplace policy and program another tool to prevent accidents and injuries and to protect workers' health, safety and well-being.
A comprehensive drug-free workplace policy will have the following components:
- A written policy and procedures
- Worker education on the health effects of substance abuse
- Supervisor training on recognizing potential drug or alcohol impairment/use and confronting workers
- Rehabilitation options
Although drug and alcohol testing is an optional component of a comprehensive program, it is recommended because the construction industry has such a high rate of use and abuse. While some may view the program as a "witch hunt" and an invasion of privacy, a drug-free workplace policy and program serves to educate workers on the short- and long-term health effects of substance use, educate supervisors on how to recognize and address unsafe behavior, and provide options for rehabilitation for those workers who have a substance abuse problem. Overall, the goal of such a policy and program is first, to provide a safe worksite and, second, to save money for contractors. No employee should want to work on a site that is not free from all illegal drugs and alcohol, and no responsible contractor should want to conduct business on such a site.
We Can Help
The Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA), a joint labor-management organization, was founded in 1988 by the Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) a union representing more than 700,000 working men and women in a variety of occupations throughout the United States and Canada and its signatory contractors. The LHSFNA conducts research, develops policy, provides technical support and disseminates information to LIUNA members, participating union health and welfare funds, and the union's signatory employers.
The Fund has a long history of working with the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA), most recently on ergonomics and silica issues. In addition, the LHSFNA staff assisted with the MCAA-OSHA Masonry Best Practices training of OSHA personnel on safety and health issues in the masonry industry.
The Fund focuses on the following areas of concern: workplace safety and health, workers' compensation and health care cost control, injury and illness prevention, union member access to prescription drugs and medical treatment, regulatory implementation and compliance, occupational safety and health legislation, smoking cessation, substance abuse awareness and disease prevention and treatment.
The Fund's Health Promotion Division also provides information, technical assistance, consultation and training to LIUNA's local unions, health and welfare funds, and signatory employers in the area of substance abuse that may affect the health and safety of laborers, both at work and at home.
Technical assistance and consultation on workplace substance abuse issues includes providing sample workplace drug testing policies, reviewing collective bargaining or other policy language, ensuring compliance with federal or state regulations, and developing cost effective health benefits for the treatment of alcoholism and drug dependency.
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