While the growing legalization of cannabis in the U.S. may be fueling new industries and is leading to an economic boom in states where it is legal, the use of drugs and alcohol on the job site can have a devastating impact on safety. Drug and alcohol abuse is prevalent among full-time construction workers between 18 and 64, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which found that nearly 12
percent of workers are heavy drug users; 17 percent are heavy alcohol users, and 14 percent admit to having a substance use disorder. Despite those eye-opening statistics, there are sensible measures that builders and contractors can take to promote substance-free, injury-free workplaces.
Establish a Program
According to Builders Mutual Insurance Company, each employer should establish a program to educate everyone in their organization about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and the importance of workplace safety and hold all staff responsible for complying with policies. Not doing so opens the door for liability and sets a bad example for workers, says Tina Hill, Director of Claims for Builders Mutual. The company suggests supervisory training for senior level roles so that supervisors learn to recognize, report, and approach drug-related situations.
Establishing a program to educate workers about substance abuse and articulating the goal of having a zero-tolerance policy on the job site establishes an unquestionable commitment to a substance-free workplace, particularly when followed by continuous reinforcement. Employers may also choose to have an employee assistance program (EAP) to help identify, assess, and refer workers who may need help with substance abuse issues.
Create Effective Policies
Builders Mutual recommends that individual businesses create and implement their alcohol and drug policies tailored to their specific needs and company culture. Policies should be written and provided to employees along with an explanation of why the policy is being implemented, what type of testing if any is included, and the consequences of violation. Those policies must align with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines as well as those of specific state agencies tasked with regulating worker safety provisions.
Should a job site accident occur, Builders Mutual also provides post-accident drug testing guidelines for its policyholders.
Promote Safe Workplace Practices
While Workers’ compensation policies advocate for pre-employment drug testing, employers can implement their drug testing and educational practices that will help ensure a drug-free work environment after the employee starts the job. One of the more popular policies is random drug-testing.
Establishing a random drug-testing policy and communicating to employees that they could be tested at any time regardless of their behavior at work, helps reinforce the zero-tolerance mentality, according to the insurer.
Another testing option for an employer is “reasonable suspicion” testing. This type of testing allows the employer to take a worker out of his or her position to perform a drug test if the worker appears impaired on the job. While reasonable suspicion testing is important, supervisors must be trained to recognize whether an employee appears to be using drugs or alcohol.
Should an accident occur on the job site, a claim for workers’ compensation should be filed, and that claim requires post-accident drug testing be completed within 24 hours. If the test is positive, the claim may be denied. Importantly, post-accident testing also conveys the zero-tolerance message.
After an accident or admission to a substance abuse program, a worker may also be required to submit to a return-to-duty or follow-up drug test.
Builders and contractors committed to a safe workplace must establish programs, policies, and practices that make it clear that substance abuse will not be tolerated at any level and that all employees will be expected to adhere to established policies that help ensure an injury-free, substance-free working environment.