All You Need to Know About Construction Drug Testing
Construction is inherently a high-risk, safety-sensitive industry and drug use impairs the abilities of construction workers. Sadly, the construction industry has one of the highest rates of drug use, second only to hospitality and food service industries.
In the 1980s, employers across many industries began workplace drug testing programs in an effort to reduce drug and alcohol-related accidents on the job. However, despite the growing awareness, no scholarly works investigated drug-related policies and their impact in the construction industry until well into the 1990s.
In a 2001 technical paper “Evaluation of Drug Testing in the Workplace: Study of the Construction Industry”, J. Gerber and G. Yacoubian Jr. wrote that construction companies that did implement drug testing programs saw an average of 51% reduction in reported cases of on-the-job injuries within 2 years of starting their programs.
When to Use Drug Testing
- Pre-Employment Testing
- Random Testing
- Post-Accident Testing
- Testing for Reasonable Cause
- Blanket Testing
- Follow-Up Testing
Popular Drug Testing Methods in the Construction Industry
This is the most common workplace drug test type. It is also the most technologically developed method with a whole range of instant urine drug test kits that include:
- Urine drug test cups are easy to use and can be done on-site.
- Plenty of instant drug test kits are available.
- Urine drug test kits can detect drug use from 1 day up to 7 days after usage for most drugs; up to 15 days for Phenobarbital and up to 30 days for long-term heavy use of marijuana.
Saliva drug testing is a very cost-effective screening method. It is growing in popularity among employers especially as guidelines are now being drawn up by the government for its usage.
- Non-invasive/easy to use
- Plenty of instant drug testing kits available
- On-site/on-the-spot testing
- Immediate detection (no need to wait for drugs to metabolize)
- Impossible to cheat
Hair follicle drug testing is the most reliable method to establish long-term drug use and is therefore ideal for pre-employment drug screening along with a standard background check. A long-term drug habit can be a marker for risk-taking behavior which should be a red flag in construction sites.
A comprehensive background screening typically includes drug testing (hair, urine, and saliva test kits available upon request) and any combination of the following:
- Global Criminal Watch List
- Federal Criminal
- Nationwide Criminal with SSN Trace and Alias
- Nationwide Wants and Warrants
- Sex Offender Registry
- Can detect drug use for up to 3 months prior to the test
- Does not require same-sex collection
- Impossible to cheat
For post-accident and reasonable suspicion drug testing, the construction industry appears to have a preference for saliva testing mainly for how convenient specimen collection is and for how it can establish very recent (on-the-spot) drug use.
Random drug testing usually makes use of instant urine drug tests. Construction companies often choose multi-panel drug tests (at least 12 drugs) to weed out employees who use lesser-known drugs. As synthetic marijuana, bath salts and other synthetic drugs become more prevalent, many construction companies have begun testing for them these days.
Construction Drug Abuse Statistics
Due to the high accident rates in the construction industry, it is vital for management to take necessary steps to implement programs and procedures that will increase construction safety and worker productivity. According to AON, 40% of construction fatalities involve substance abuse and 71% of union members are in favor of drug testing. While the effects of a drug-related job site accident can be catastrophic for individuals and companies, management should realize that drug use among employees can be damaging to morale, productivity, and quality even if it does not result in accidents.
Drug testing construction workers is an effective method for reducing the number of impaired workers on a project site, increasing overall project safety, worker morale, productivity, and profits.
Current Illicit Drug Use
Current Heavy Alcohol Use
Other Construction Workers
Commonly Abused Drugs in the Construction Industry
Each day, an opioid overdose takes 91 American lives. Opioids are a class of drugs used as pain relievers, often legally prescribed. Examples include:
- Oxycodone (OXY)
- Morphine (MOR)
- Methadone (MTD)
This class of drugs includes synthetic drug fentanyl which can be up to 100x more potent than morphine. Fentanyl is used for surgery and cancer patients but is also available illegally as a street drug. Another illegal example of opioids is heroin, which is sometimes laced with fentanyl to make it stronger as if it wasn’t bad enough.
A person develops a tolerance to opioids through repeated use and therefore requires more of the drug to achieve the desired effect. Side effects of opiate abuse include:
- Respiratory Depression
- Physical Dependence
The U.S. is facing an opioid crisis of epidemic proportions and the construction industry is among the hardest hit.
According to commercial insurance underwriter CNA, their claim data show that total prescription opioid expenditures from 2009-2013 held at 20%, which is some 5-10% higher than any other industry included in the study.
Further, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health learned that job turnovers, retraining, lost time and healthcare are some of the biggest costs that result from substance abuse.
Their data shows that in the 3 states with the highest frequency of opioid abuse, annual expected losses for a construction company that employs a minimum of 100 workers are:5
- $43,538 – Massachusetts
- $40,839 – Oklahoma
- $38,140 - Texas
But why opioids? Construction jobs are physically demanding. They lift; they pull; they remove debris of all shapes and sizes - often with jagged edges; they work with heavy equipment. They do this all day, every day.
Normal wear and tear takes a toll on their bodies. The job is naturally more dangerous than most other jobs as well, with power tools and heavy machinery all over their job sites, construction has an injury rate that is 77% higher than the national average for other occupations.6
Construction jobs are often seasonal and these people are paid hourly, so it’s understandable that if they get injured, they’d rather pop a pill and get back to work pronto. After all, a pill is much cheaper than physical therapy and works much faster.
But is it really just the over-prescription of painkillers or is there a more sinister development behind this opioid epidemic?
Cheap heroin. There are new dealers in the picture, young Mexicans who keep a low profile and are able to provide nearly pure black tar heroin. They have taken heroin out of dark back alleys and into working, middle-class hands. Nearly 70% of heroin addicts started out as users of prescription pain meds, the very same kind of painkillers often prescribed to injured construction workers.
The CDC states that dirty doctors and their indiscriminate over-prescription of pain meds in combination with readily available black tar Mexican heroin makes the perfect recipe for close to 100 deaths by overdose in the U.S each and every day. There were more heroin deaths in 2016 than homicides, and opioid-related deaths also surpassed vehicular fatalities.7
Methamphetamine is a stimulant. It usually comes in pill form or as a white bitter powder. Crystal meth looks like shiny, bluish-white rocks or glass fragments.
Methods of administration include smoking/inhaling, snorting, swallowing or injecting the powder after being dissolved in alcohol or water. 8
The initial rush from taking meth brings:
- Increased Energy
- Euphoric Mood
- Decreased Appetite
A methamphetamine high lasts much longer compared to what other stimulants provide, like cocaine. A construction worker on a high can work all day with no let-up and still have enough energy left to handle even more upon getting home before the drug begins to wear off.
As the saying goes, however, the higher you go, the harder you fall. Coming down from a meth high can be brutal. Methamphetamine has been implicated in many psychiatric difficulties including:
- Paranoia 9
According to SAMHSA, construction workers fall prey to what meth offers - boundless energy and alertness that allow them to cope with the demands of long hours of physical labor. It is a way to make the job easier and to make more money by having the ability to work more hours.
Old data from 1990 showed that among the 20% of male construction workers who reported using one or more illicit drugs, 18% used marijuana in the past month, 14% used cocaine in the past year and 26% were heavy drinkers.9
Fast forward to the here and now, the marijuana situation in the construction industry is worsening, largely because of relaxed marijuana laws. An article about remodeling companies yielded some very interesting if contrasting data:10
Remodeling just like all other construction jobs can be very dangerous and many remodeling companies maintain their no-drugs policy. Job site safety is still their number one priority. One such company in Wilmette, Illinois has stuck to their guns, “No illegal substances and no grace, you are fired” – Terry Albaugh of The Craftsmen Group. He said he hasn’t had a problem with it yet.
At the other end of the spectrum, some owners are somewhat resigned to taking pot-smoking workers despite the potential consequences because if they didn’t, there won’t be anyone left to hire. They said that 95% of their field workers test positive every time they test! They used to be “zero-tolerance” but soon realized if they kept it up, pretty soon they wouldn’t have any workers, even for some management positions. This from a company based in Florida, a state that has yet to decriminalize pot. Imagine how it is for all the other cannabis-friendly states.
Doing a delicate balancing act is Sockeye Construction Corp. in Kent, Washington. Owner Tod Sakai says it isn’t his business if his workers smoke marijuana at 7 pm on a work night, as long as they come in at 5 am the next day sober and ready to go. He watches for signs that a person may be a risk to safety and immediately pull that person from the job. He says he treats it like he does alcohol, there shouldn’t be any lingering effects at the job site.
Construction Site Accidents
Of the 4,379 private industry worker deaths in 2015, 21.4% were in construction. They have what is called the “Fatal Four”, the 4 leading causes of construction industry deaths.
- Falls – In 2015, falls amounted to 38.8% of all construction industry deaths.
Being struck by an object – This is the 2nd most common cause of death in the industry, equivalent to 9.6% of all deaths.
- Electrocution – That’s 8.6% of all construction industry deaths in 2015.
- Getting caught in or between objects – the fourth most common cause of death in the construction industry, accounting for 7.2% of all deaths.
A 2008 survey of US construction firms showed that while drug use has declined, it is still a major concern and a majority of companies do pre-employment drug testing and random testing. Marijuana and cocaine are still the primary drugs of choice and cheating on drug tests by using adulterants is still a major problem.
Drug and alcohol testing deters substance use and abuse in the workplace and allows employers to identify those who need help. For construction companies, instant drug tests eliminate the need to wait for lab results that can potentially delay time-critical tasks. The combined results of a drug test and a background check can be a powerful deciding tool for hiring managers.
Construction Drug Testing Options
Test Country services include the following:
Our corporate purchasing plan is available for organizations that wish to order instant drug test kits and/or establish an account to do laboratory-based drug testing for their workplace. Our corporate drug testing plans are flexible and are tailored to your specific needs and requirements. We have a dedicated Customer Service and Sales Team available to assist you in choosing the best option for your company.
Substance abuse testing is a requirement of construction sites and a vital part of most safety programs. TestCountry provides comprehensive drug and alcohol testing services to all construction sites.
Impact of Drug Testing in the Construction Industry
Under the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988, employers are NOT REQUIRED to use drug testing. However, most take advantage of the option to establish a policy that allows them to perform drug and alcohol testing on employees. Labor and employment laws vary from state to state and are often contradictory to federal laws, with marijuana legalization being a prime example.
Grey areas notwithstanding, it is still critical for the construction industry to be vigilant about drug and alcohol use and abuse in the workplace. A solid drug testing program can be an effective tool towards achieving higher degrees of safety for everyone.
Clear, well-written drug test policies can help employees understand that the drug testing program is not there to invade their privacy. It is there to try and keep everybody safe, to allow them to go home to their families at the end of each day.
A drug testing policy alone will not work in an industry where most workers end up popping pain pills to cope with day to day physical labor, especially if said drug test will very likely cost them their jobs. There is bound to be a lot of resistance. These workers need to know that they will not get fired straight out of the drug testing facility. They need to know that they will be given assistance to overcome their substance use problem, and still have a job. Enter the EAP or Employee Assistance Program. EAPs have been known to help break the pattern of abuse and create a safer working environment. Many safety managers would agree that is it far easier (and perhaps more rewarding) to help an experienced worker than to hire someone who’s still wet behind the ears and needing extensive training.12