The Need for Change: Drug Testing in Construction
Lynn A. Corlett, C.S.P.
We all know that a drug free workplace is a safe workplace and the Michigan union skilled trades and contractors were ahead of their time when the MUST drug screening program was implemented 16 years ago in 1991.
However, times change, the drugs of choice change and the numbers of ways to “beat” the tests have changed.
It’s time again for the union skilled trades and contractors to leap ahead of the national status quo.
Recently the States of Hawaii and Georgia passed legislation to improve safety and reduce workers compensation costs through the implementation of on-site oral fluid / saliva drug screening.
The construction industry played a key role in driving these changes, especially in Hawaii. Organized labor in particular, as well as contractors, owners, and insurers recognized the following:
Drug abuse in the construction sector is as bad, if not worse than ever,
Effective drug testing, especially random drug testing is required to truly manage workplace substance abuse,
Observed specimen collection, convenience, and low cost are mandatory to ensure compliance.
This article attempts to address ... from the construction industry’s point of view:
Why should every construction site drug test?
Where do we go from here?
Why drug test? Simple.
10% of employees aged 18 – 49 years abuse drugs (not including alcohol), the construction industry runs 2x-3x this rate. Over 50% of reportable job-site accidents linked to substance abuse.
It’s clear that employee safety and the corporate bottom line are sufficient reasons to implement a drug free workplace program.
A need for change.
Pre-employment drug testing has become an intelligence test. Access to the internet has made defeating drug tests an easy task. Workers are able to get information on how to “flush” their system; adulterate samples; and there are even products like the Whizinator, which uses synthetic urine undetectable by current drug testing methods, designed to defeat observed urine collection.
Random drug testing, post-incident and reasonable suspicion modes are required components of any comprehensive, effective safety program.
The goal of any drug / alcohol policy is deterrence vs. “catching” employees. Random testing has consistently demonstrated to be singularly effective in reducing on-the-job substance abuse.Any effective testing mode must involve direct observation of specimen collection. But observed urine collection is embarrassing and degrading to both the observed and the observer.Arguably, there are more instances of drug abusers defeating unobserved techniques, such as traditional urine-based testing, than there are “positives”. Just look at nationwide statistics for validation. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of drug abusers are employed.
Furthermore most drug testing (approx. 90%) involves traditional urine laboratory-based pre-employment testing. Oral fluid worksOral fluid tests are cheaper, faster and easier to use than urinalysis… and unlike urine, can not be easily defeated.
Random testing via on-site oral fluid is fast, provides results within 5-15 minutes, and averages $20 per test. It has the additional advantage of detecting current, vs. historical drug use. Oral fluid tests typically detect from within minutes of consumption up to 2-3 days for most drugs (for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, the maximum is 24 hours.). Urine testing can not detect drugs for up to the first several hours and is only an indicator of historical drug use. Furthermore, for THC, detection can go back as far as 30 days.
Do you as an employer really care what an otherwise dependable employee does at his/her home on the weekend?
Do you even have a right to know?
Also look at the true costs of urine-based random testing. In many cases our current program requires we send our employees off site for random testing. The cost involved includes not only the hourly labor rate, probably $50/hour with benefits, but the productivity loss also. The end result is that a typical off-site urine test is truly costing a job about $300 per test, and the effectiveness is questionable at best.
On-site oral fluid based testing works. Multiple case studies have documented significant improvements in accident reduction due to switching from urine-based to oral fluid-based drug screening.
Where do we go from here?
Occupational health, safety, and risk management professionals must lead the charge to effect change. We know what truly happens every day on our job sites. At the end of day, we “get it”. It’s time for us to update our current drug and alcohol free workplace program.
It’s time for the Michigan union skilled trades and contractors to again lead the charge in effecting change.
It’s time to implement oral fluid-based testing techniques at a few “pilot sites” and demonstrate the advantage of effective drug testing programs vs. the status quo.
2006 United States Department of Health – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Agency (SAMSHA) National Survey on Drug Use & Health (NHSDA)- Office of Applied Studies. (2007) Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National findings (DHHS Publication No. SMA 07-4293, NSDUH Series H-32). Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Peter N. Cholakis and Roger Bruce (July 2007) Drug Testing in the Workplace – A look at oral fluid-based testing. Professional Safety Journal of the American Society of Safety Engineers, July 2007, 31-36.