Keep Substance Abuse Off Your Sites

I think it's safe to say most all of us have been touched at some point in our lives by the negative effects of substance abuse. Drug or alcohol abuse can cost lives in all walks of life, but the risks increase dramatically once it enters the construction environment.

Unfortunately, the construction industry has some of the highest rates of substance abuse of industries surveyed by the federal government. Among full-time construction workers between the ages of 18 and 49, more than 12% report illicit drug use during the past 30 days; almost 21% report illicit drug use during the past year; and approximately 13% admit to heavy alcohol use.

Substance abuse on the jobsite can cost you dearly. Workers under the influence of drugs or alcohol are a danger to themselves and to those around them. Your company could also face additional legal liabilities if an employee involved in an accident or incident is found to have been under the influence.

Implementing a drug-free workplace program is an effective step toward eliminating substance abuse within your company. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, these programs typically consist of a drug-free workplace policy; supervisor training; employee education; employee assistance; and drug testing.

In general, drug-free workplace policies have a few aspects in common. These include:

  • Why the policy is being implemented — The reason is often as simple as a desire to ensure the safety, health and well being of employees, patrons and the general public.
  • A clear description of prohibited behaviors — At minimum, the policy should prohibit use, possession, transfer or sale of illegal drugs by employees, as well as consumption of alcohol during working hours.
  • An explanation of consequences for violating the policy — This may include referral for assistance, disciplinary action or termination of employment.

Supervisors should be trained to ensure they understand all components of the policy. In addition, they should be able to recognize and deal with employees who have performance problems that may be drug- or alcohol-related, and understand how to refer employees to available assistance.

In addition, make sure all employees are informed of the drug-free workplace program, as well as the conditions included in the company policy. Employee education should provide all information needed to fully understand, cooperate with and benefit from the program, including any employee assistance programs available.

Drug testing can be an effective means to screen prospective employees, as well as test existing employees in order to deter and detect substance abuse. Before deciding to conduct testing, determine which employees will be subject to testing; when tests will be conducted; which substances to test for; and how the tests will be conducted.

Because every business is unique, there is no single method for establishing a drug-free workplace program. For information and assistance in tailoring a program to your company, visit the Working Partners area at the Department of Labor web site (www.dol.gov/asp).

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