Testing for Substance Abuse in the Construction Industry

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Labor market tightness is about to rear its ugly head again in construction as the industry continues its post-pandemic recovery.

Contractors in some parts of the country, and particularly those working in the residential realm — which showed surprising strength throughout the pandemic — are already struggling to find labor.

That’s the “good” news. The not-so-good is that as labor shortages become more pronounced, there’s the risk that contractors will have no choice but to be less selective about who they bring aboard.

And by “less selective,” we mean workers with substance-abuse issues.

The construction industry employs more workers with substance use disorders than any other profession – a more-than-worrisome fact for a profession that relies so heavily on focus, coordination and judgment.

It doesn’t help that so many in construction are prescribed opioids to deal with their injuries and pain. Almost three out of four injured construction workers were prescribed a narcotic pain killer in 2016. Opioids account for 20% of the total spending on prescription drugs in the construction industry, a higher amount than any other industry.

As risk managers, our advice is straightforward: Construction companies should regularly drug test their employees, as this is required by federal law.

The five illicit drugs that standard tests will detect are methamphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, opiates such as heroin, and phencyclidine, or PCP.

When Testing Can Be Done

There are six instances when employers typically conduct drug tests: pre-employment, baseline, random, post-accident, reasonable suspicion, and scheduled testing. Here’s what each means:

1. Pre-employment testing: A program applied consistently to either all applicants or all applicants in a safety-sensitive position. Tests should be conducted after a contingent offer of employment has been extended.

2. Baseline testing: Done to establish the level of drug use at implementation of a program. This method essentially cleans house to help establish a drug-free workplace.

3. Random testing: A certain portion of the employee population is randomly selected at established intervals (i.e., monthly, quarterly, annually, etc.) for testing. This method encourages employees to remain drug-free and can also help identify employees who were clean while job hunting but may have resumed bad habits.

4. Post-accident testing: In essence, this means your company policy dictates that all employees involved in a workplace accident must be tested for drugs and alcohol. Depending on the jurisdiction, it’s possible that, if an employee is found to be under the influence, they will become ineligible for compensation replacement and medical benefits.

5. Reasonable suspicion testing: This is testing done when an employer has reason to believe that an employee is under the influence. Suspicious behaviors, such as poor job performance, tardiness, smelling of marijuana or other substances, or reports from witnesses that an employee is using drugs, all constitute reasonable terms for testing.

6. Scheduled testing: Most commonly used as a follow-up to a previous positive test. Some employers offer last-chance agreements to employees who test positive on condition they submit to regular and ongoing testing.

The cost of testing can range between $15-$100, depending upon whether the specimen is collected by the employer, what substances are tested for, the location of the company, and if the most current technology is used.

How to Handle a Positive Test

Whatever you do, it’s important to be consistent and make sure you comply with your own written policies.

That means all employees required to be tested must receive the same disciplinary actions.

If possible, contractors also should consider putting into place an employee assistance program (EAP) because such programs can have a positive impact on people with drug-abuse problems.

As in most insurance matters, the details matter. Contact us for risk-control strategies and learn how you can earn a 5% credit for a drug-free workplace from your workers’ compensation carrier.

The Mahoney Group, based in Mesa, Ariz., is one of the largest independent insurance and employee benefits brokerages in the nation. Contact us at news@mahoneygroup.com or 480-730-4920.

This article is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice.

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