Before taking part in an objective and informed discussion of worker drug and alcohol testing in the precast construction industry, we need a valid frame of reference on which everyone can agree. Real-world statistics are critical in this very serious discussion, because a precast concrete employer’s right to enforce drug and alcohol testing policies, based on a federal act, is not free from controversy. Some people say drug testing promotes safety while others will say mandatory testing violates privacy rights. Canada, for example, currently does not have a law that requires mandatory workplace drug testing, in part because of civil liberty concerns. So let us begin with the following statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
It’s not a pretty picture that the DOL paints for us, is it? To put it into words: “The major industry groups with the highest prevalence of heavy alcohol use were construction, arts, entertainment and recreation, and mining, and those with the lowest were health care and social assistance and educational services.”
Interestingly, the construction industry is right up there with the entertainment industry. True, “construction” is a very broad category and includes many professional trades, but for anyone who has ever walked the walk, there is no denying that construction is an inherently dangerous, stressful and physically demanding profession.
Federal acts provide the legal
right to test
The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 gives the right to (but does not require) employers to establish drug-testing policies and to have workers submit to drug and alcohol testing. The 1991 Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act does require transportation industry employers who have employees in “safety-sensitive” positions, such as commercial drivers, to have drug-free workplace programs, and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) enforces this act. Labor and employment laws that relate to substance abuse policy for construction employers can vary from state to state.
These two U.S. acts, however, are not the reason why employers establish and strictly enforce drug-testing policies or why employees submit to tests, like urinalysis, for the presence of illicit drugs or alcohol. The reason we do these difficult and personally invasive things is because we all want a safe place to work. We all want to come home healthy, even if dog-tired, to our families at night. No one wants to see a co-worker injured. We all – workers and employers – want the same thing: the safest workplace we can manage.
A real commitment to safety means doing everything possible to prevent work-related accidents, including those that result from the use of alcohol and illegal drugs. Strict enforcement of a drug-free, substance-free workplace is a priority for any precast plant employer who has a heartfelt commitment to establishing and maintaining a “company culture of safety” that includes drug and alcohol education and awareness.
David Parkhurst, commercial agent with IBG (Insurance & Benefits Group) and a certified work comp advisor, says, “Drug testing, like most safety programs, is all about the safety culture that a company is trying to create. If you develop a zero-tolerance culture for drug and alcohol abuse, you are effectively raising the bar for every member on your team. If an employee is abusing drugs or alcohol, he or she is not going to be able to shut off that lifestyle and attitude when clocking in to work. Drug addiction is a part of who they are, and unless they deal with it and can find a way to embrace the same zero-tolerance attitude, that employee will be a liability to the culture of safety you are trying to create.”
Here’s a test on illicit drugs and alcohol in the workplace you can administer during your regularly scheduled safety briefing or staff meeting. All are true/false statements, and the answers are below.
1. An employer is wise to focus on illicit drug use rather than alcohol abuse when developing a substance-free workplace policy.
2. Urine is the most common bodily specimen
used to test for illegal drugs, and breath
analysis is the most common test for alcohol.
3. There are four different bodily specimens that can be used to test for the presence of drugs and/or alcohol.
4. Because random drug testing is unannounced and each worker has an equal chance of being selected for testing, random testing serves as
5. Random drug testing is allowed in all states.
6. Post-accident testing for alcohol must occur within two hours, because alcohol is absorbed and eliminated more quickly than other drugs.
7. Barbiturates and cocaine have some of the shortest “detection windows” – the amount of time after ingestion during which evidence of their use can be detected – of the more commonly used illegal drugs.
1. False. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, failing to include alcohol, the No. 1 abused drug in American society, can undermine the effectiveness of drug-free workplace programs.
3. False. There are six different bodily specimens that can be chemically tested to detect evidence of recent drug use: urine, breath, blood, hair, oral fluids (saliva) and sweat.
5. False. Some states restrict or question an employer’s ability to randomly drug test employees who are not in safety-sensitive positions.
7. False. Barbiturates and cocaine can be detected in the body up to 10 days after ingestion.