The construction industry struggles with higher than average employee drug use. While the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 10% of American workers abuse drugs, in the construction industry that figure may be as high as 25%. Employee drug abuse is related to decreased productivity, absenteeism, workplace violence, and employee theft. In addition, employees using drugs are more likely to cause accidents at jobsites. The cost of all this to a construction company has been estimated to be as high as $30,000 per employee per year.

This is a serious concern for safety managers, one that many construction companies choose to face head-on by implementing drug-testing programs. The most common time to test is pre-employment. Employers also often test following an accident or if there is some reasonable suspicion of drug abuse. Increasingly, though, companies are finding success through random testing.

The methods available for testing include urine tests, oral fluids (saliva), hair, sweat, and blood. The other decision to make is whether to test onsite or send samples to a laboratory. The simplest and cheapest method is an onsite urine test, although there are many opportunities for adulteration of the sample. A urine sample sent to a lab is the most common method of testing. Urine sampling in general, though, misses many abusers, since adulterants that mask drug use are readily available on the Internet. Oral fluids testing, however, is simple, accurate, and less susceptible to adulteration.

ORALscreen Process Simple and Quick
ORALscreen Process Simple and Quick

The single most effective method for reducing drug use in the work-place is random testing. Archer Daniels Midland Corporation instituted a random testing program using oral fluids and reduced illicit drug use from 7% to 0.08%. Gould Construction also used random oral fluids testing and reduced workers compensation claims from 19 per year to zero within three years.

To initiate a drug testing program, there are four key steps:

  • Gain companywide support—Senior management may not be aware of the impact that drug abuse can have on company performance.
  • Develop a written drug-free workplace policy.
  • Establish your objectives.
  • Measure and report success.

Developing a drug-free workplace policy is an essential step. This policy should have the following features:

  • An overall policy statement of the objective
  • An implementation program laying out how and when testing will take place
  • An indication of what tests will be conducted
  • A procedure for confirming “non-negatives”
  • Appointing or hiring a medical resource officer (MRO)
  • An employee assistance program
  • Education and training for test administrators, supervisors, and employees
  • Development of a web-centric database to display test results

Developing a drug-testing program can be important for your company. Don't be put off by the many myths about drug testing, such as

  • Unions are anti-drug testing. False. More that 50% of unions are pro-drug testing.
  • Onsite drug testing is illegal. False. Onsite devices are qualitative drug screens, that use the same basic technology as laboratory-based tests, and “non-negative” or “presumptive positive” results are followed by laboratory confirmation.
  • Random testing of current employees is illegal. False. It is a company's legal responsibility to provide employees with a safe work environment. However, companies must have a written policy that documents the reason for drug testing, must communicate the drug-free workplace policy effectively, and must implement the policy in an unbiased manner.
  • Conducting your own tests will increase your liability. False. A company's liability will not be increased by conducting its own drug testing program, in fact, liability may be decreased.

A drug testing program may seem like a needless expense, but it nearly always pays off, adding directly to your bottom line and to the safety of your workers.

Based on a presentation at Safety 2006 by Roger Bruce, Perini Building Co., and Steve Turko, Avitar Technologies.