31st January 2019
Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Construction

Is the construction industry doing enough to tackle alcohol and drug abuse?

Drug and alcohol problems in the construction industry continue to make for grim headlines, and have serious implications for an industry that depends so heavily on having a safe and healthy workforce.

Whilst there’s increasing evidence from across the UK that the number of adults classed as heavy drinkers is decreasing, construction remains an industry whose culture often revolves around socialising after work in the bar or pub.

Back in 2016, a survey by the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) found that 35% of construction workers had noticed colleagues under the influence of drugs or alcohol on site.

What’s more, the study showed that 59% of employees were concerned about the effects that drugs and alcohol could have in the workplace.

Recent reports highlight the issues

In September 2018, housebuilder Barratt Developments started randomly testing its construction workforce for illegal drugs, amid increased fears of substance abuse.

In the same month, The Telegraph ran a piece about delays in the construction of the new Spurs stadium. This included allegations from an unnamed source that drinking and drug-taking amongst the workforce were in part to blame, although these claims were strongly denied by the management of the company concerned, which operates a rigorous drug-testing policy.

Whilst the Health and Safety Executive doesn’t monitor whether alcohol or drugs are a contributory factor in reported accidents and fatalities, many in the industry fear that they could be implicated.

Adopting the right approach

It’s long been recognised that, as in other sectors and industries, construction companies need to have a drugs and alcohol policy in place that is clearly communicated to their workers.

While drug and alcohol testing is legislated for in certain sectors, such as the aviation, rail and shipping industries, there is currently no legal obligation for the construction industry to adopt any specific testing policies, despite the obvious risks inherent in the tasks undertaken.

The HS2 high speed railway project is often cited as an example of good working practices that put health and safety issues squarely on the agenda. In order to work on this high-profile project, employees are required to undergo a medical, as well as to take a drugs and alcohol test as part of their induction process. Even visitors to the site have to take the test. Random testing is also regularly undertaken to ensure continuing site safety.

According to the government’s website on worker’s rights, whilst staff cannot be made to take a drugs test, they could face disciplinary action if they refuse when their employer has good grounds for testing them. The implications of having a policy in place are clear; those who fail a test know that there will be serious repercussions and consequences.

A new CCS course

In a bid to ensure that contractors are better informed about drugs and alcohol issues, the CCS has recently launched a new online course. It provides insight into the problems, and offers advice on what can be done to address misuse.

After reading the online content, companies are encouraged to take the accompanying quiz. Those who answer more than 70% of the questions correctly will pass the test and receive a certificate. Encouragingly, the course website has had more than 2.6 million visits since it launched.

Maintaining momentum across the industry

Many contractors, suppliers and clients already have rigorous screening procedures and company policies in place to tackle the issues. These include operating a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol abuse, random testing, running information programmes and site induction sessions, as well as publishing on-site materials such as posters highlighting the company policy and reminding workers of the risks of misuse.

Whilst the construction industry is beginning to address the issues of alcohol and drug use head on, there is clearly more that can be done within individual firms to ensure that these issues are tackled, and that safety standards are maintained at all times.