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Drug use can be a serious personal problem, but when someone abuses drugs and then arrives at the jobsite under the influence, he makes his problem your problem. Dangerous and even deadly accidents can occur at the drop of a hat given the risky nature of the construction industry. When someone has been abusing drugs, they are increasing the already troubling odds astronomically.

So keep your workers safe, your job site safe and the drug abuser himself safe by ensuring that he is banned from the job site while under the influence. Whether you decide to follow the incident with mandatory drug-testing, zero-tolerance consequences like automatic dismissal or more lenient solutions like “three strikes” is up to your business’s discretion, but allowing someone to stay and work under the influence for even a second could have costly or even tragic consequences.

A Look at Drug Abuse on the Job

Writing for the Insurance Risk Management Institute (IRMI), Dr. Ron Prichard observes that “the average construction worker must place great faith in the level of skill, competence, and fitness for duty of those working on the site. Workers rely on each other to do their jobs in a safe manner and to protect both themselves and their fellow workers.”

Despite this inherent need for trust and reliability, some construction workers still choose to place themselves and their co-workers in danger by abusing drugs during or prior to work. The US Department of Labor estimates that drug abuse among construction workers accounts for:

  • 8 % of laborers
  • 2 % of supervisors
  • 3 % of workers in other capacities

IRMI data shows that chronic substance abusers have a 3.6 times higher accident rate. Accidents can lead to ruined work, damaged equipment, destroyed materials and medical needs, all of which significantly drive up job overhead.

On top of that, drug abusers are three times more likely to file health claims as well as five times more likely to claim workers compensation, and they utilize sick leave three times more often than the average worker. These incidents strain the entire health benefit system, raising costs for other workers while costing you man hours.

Suggestions for Handling Drug Abuse Incidents

  • A policy subject to various conditions which enforces mandatory drug testing prior to hiring will be the best way to guarantee that workers are not arriving on-the-job with drugs in their system.
  • Have a clear, written policy for employees to sign and that is publicly visible.
    • Sample policies are available from organizations like the Construction Coalition for a Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace
  • Follow up on warning signs of substance abuse within your rights as an employer.
  • Consult your legal counsel to ensure that your actions following the discovery of drug abuse are in compliance with state law, including mandatory reporting or worker rights preventing termination in certain circumstances.
  • Individuals who test positive or are discovered to have used drugs can often be placed on probation, which period may include a counseling program.
  • Remember that abuse from the night before can still mean drugs or alcohol in the user’s system or potential debilitating aftereffects (like a hangover).
  • Workers on certain prescription medications like painkillers may not be allowed to operate heavy equipment. Consult the medication’s prescription label to be sure.

Measures like these may not be able to prevent drug abuse, but they can lower the risk of abuse-related incidents happening at work. Someone who has a drug or alcohol problem likely needs your support and understanding, but there should be zero tolerance when it comes to being under the influence at the jobsite. This approach is the only way to keep everyone safe.

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