By Phil Casto

As the opiod epidemic continues to rage, the construction industry is in desperate need of a cure. 

Illicit drug use, and not just opioids, has replaced alcohol abuse as one of the sector’s biggest concerns. The data makes the point: with 15.1 percent of construction workers using drugs (second only to food service), the industry’s total prescription opioid spend runs 5 percent to 10 percent above every other industry. 

Complicating the issue is the shortage of workers in today’s booming economy where testing and zero tolerance policies may cause contractors to lose employees they can’t replace fast enough. And in states like Colorado, California and Washington, where recreational marijuana is legal, employers may not consider testing to be in their best interests from a business perspective -- especially when some estimates suggest that between 50 to 89 percent of their population is comprised of recreational users. 

Making matters even more complicated, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has changed its rules for post-accident drug and alcohol testing. The rules call for a “reasonable procedure” that’s neither discriminatory nor retaliatory for employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses. Employers whose testing policies don’t measure up can face expensive penalties of $12,934 per violation and over $12,933 for willful or repeat violations.  

The challenge is finding subjective ways to gauge whether employees are using, training supervisors how to identify symptoms and behaviors to help those employees, and ultimately reduce usages so that when an employer complies with testing requirements, less employees test positive.  

Creating a drug free workplace and complying with testing requirements at the same time needs careful planning.  Employers should consider these five steps to manage the risks posed by on-the-job drug and alcohol use. 

  • Step 1: Refresh your drug-free workplace policies (DFWP). Your policy should meet your state’s regulations over issues like testing and should be specific to your business. Review worker’s compensation and unemployment compensation disqualifications, address prescription medication (including prescription marijuana) disclosures under the ADA and ensure new OSHA rules are covered. 
  • Step 2: Update your DFWP testing protocols. Your protocols need to be far more rigorous in order to pass OSHA requirements for drug and alcohol testing that is neither discriminatory nor retaliatory. Specify drug and alcohol use prohibitions, how “reasonable suspicion” will be determined, when tests will be conducted, and what trigger events require testing. Documentation is also essential: Don’t forget to attach employee sign-off forms, checklists documenting reasonable suspicion and “last chance” agreements. A customized employee incident report also backs up your efforts to support employee reporting of work-related accidents or illnesses.
  • Step 3. Provide training on your updated program. Managers and supervisors in HR and safety need to learn new post-incident drug testing criteria and become familiar with new reports and checklists. This includes special instructions required to confirm that incident reports have been completed prior to authorizing a post-accident drug test. Training on use of last-chance agreements is also important.
  • Step 4. Establish an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Offered as an employee benefit with no cost to your workers, an EAP will be valuable in offering a pathway to rehabilitation for employees with drug or alcohol addictions and help employers avoid losing productive workers.  
  • Step 5. Look into workplace health and wellness programs. These can support your stand against drug and alcohol use on the job. They also help to counter the stigma that keeps employees from seeking help by making it available on a confidential basis without risking their jobs. Taking proactive steps to prevent the start of drug abuse can have far reaching impact on worker’s comp premiums, employee benefit costs, and employee turnover.

Construction firms that work aggressively to counter the dangers of on-the-job use of drugs and alcohol can only benefit over the long term with healthier employees, fewer issues like absenteeism, accidents, turnover and theft, and heightened morale and productivity. 

HUB International’s consultants are available to work with you in trends and developments that may impact your risk posture today and in the future.