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Substance Abuse Disorder is on the Rise in Construction

If you are in the construction industry, listen up!

According to a recent study by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the construction industry has the 2nd highest number of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) cases at 14.3% behind the Accommodations and Food Services industry at 16.9% for those workers between 18 and 64. Also, the “heavy use of alcohol data” places Construction in second place behind Mining according to SAMHSA. This is not a new phenomenon in the construction industry, and “The passage of the Drug-Free Workplace Act 25 years ago helped lower drug abuse rates in all industries. “

Today, SUDS cases are again a growing issue. The legalization of Marijuana for recreational use in several states and the introduction of higher doses of opioids and fentanyl are making the issue even worse for safety in the industry. While most companies require a pre-hire drug test, not many are doing random drug testing.

According to Tom Jackson in his two-part story published in Equipment World, “In the construction industry, it is not uncommon to find 25 to 35 percent of pre-employment drug tests coming up positive, according to the insurance and risk management firm IMRI. Even when construction workers know they are going to be tested, 3 to 5 percent still test positive.”

Further Jackson writes, “And drugs bring big problems. The Department of Labor says drug and alcohol abuse contribute to up to 65 percent of on-the-job accidents and up to 50 percent of workers’ compensation claims. Substance abusers are absent from work an average of five days a month, are ten times more likely to steal from the company or other employees, use three times the normal level of employee health benefits and incur 300 percent higher medical costs.”

A recent investigative report in Equipment World says that, “In February last year, New York City-based WABC television uncovered a group of construction workers from four different Manhattan jobsites engaged in heavy lunchtime drinking (four and sometimes five drinks each) on three different occasions – including workers who were tasked with rigging crane loads and operating equipment.

Reaction was swift. The contractor, Gilbane, fired several of the workers. And some in the city government have called for mandatory alcohol testing.”

President Trump and Secretary Sessions recently declared war on the epidemic of opioid use in the US. Even Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve, in her recent testimony before the Senate Banking Committee when asked about reasons the participation rate in the workforce has declined said, “The United States is the only advanced nation that I know of where in these communities we're actually, especially among less-educated men, seeing an increase in death rates partly reflecting opioid use."

On the Opioid issue, Fast Company recently published an article on the most potent of the new drugs, fentanyl and the damage it is doing across the US today.

Some might say that it is “too little and too late” for the construction industry. We don’t agree, but we would repeat the warning from an FMI article that construction company owners need to get ahead of the issue today to avoid major liabilities and safety problems tomorrow.