‘Spotlight on… drugs and alcohol’ aims to raise awareness of the health and safety risks associated with this topic and educate the sectors’ workforce about how drugs and alcohol impact upon the construction industry.
Maintaining a safe working environment is of utmost importance for any employer; this not only applies to the workforce, but also the surrounding public and anybody else who may be affected. The need for attention and consideration could not be more of a priority than within the already safety-conscious construction industry.
It goes without saying that the influence of drugs and alcohol pose huge safety risks for the industry; the slightest lapse in attention or focus could cause serious consequences, particularly in a working environment where heavy machinery and vehicles are used. For many people, consuming alcohol outside working hours is a typical part of a normal lifestyle and usually does not create any serious problems. Enjoying a few drinks within the legal limit in leisure time should not be condemned, but the after effects must be kept in mind when regarding an individual’s physical and mental capabilities.
Considerate Constructors Scheme Chief Executive Edward Hardy said:
“Spotlight on… drugs and alcohol is a must read for everyone. As the Scheme’s latest industry survey revealed 59% of respondents agree that drugs and alcohol are issues of concern. It is clear action must be taken across the industry to ensure the safety, health and wellbeing across construction sites and companies throughout the UK.”
It is important to understand that drugs and alcohol can affect the psychological and physical state of wellbeing, significantly diminishing the ability to perform at a responsible level. The effects of drugs and alcohol can vary depending on the particular substance taken. However, the most common influences that can affect an individual in a working environment are as follows:
- Impaired awareness including vision and hearing
- Reduced concentration and ability to focus
- Diminished judgement and decision making
- Compromised balance and coordination
Each of these can directly compromise both the body’s mental and physical ability, greatly intensifying the chance of a hazard occurring. It is common knowledge when working in a construction environment that the individual’s actions do not just affect themselves, but can also impact those around them.
It is essential to keep in mind that it is not just recreational drugs that can pose a serious risk. Prescribed drugs may also influence an individual in various ways, which can have serious consequences in the workplace. Fundamentally, any form of drug that you may not routinely take holds the possibility of unexpected side effects.
The issue of drugs and alcohol does not just pose a health and safety hazard; the possession, production and supply of illegal drugs are criminal offences and have no place in the working environment. Whilst employers and fellow colleagues should be aware of the signs of being under the influence, they should also be vigilant of any illegal activity taking place on premises.
Alongside the risks to health and safety and potential criminal activity, the impact of drugs and alcohol should be clearly identified and addressed. The impact of drugs and alcohol can be categorised down to four core issues:
- Injuries and fatalities
- Absenteeism and dismissal
- Criminal activity
Facts and figures
It can be difficult to determine exactly what extent the industry is affected by drugs and alcohol. The following facts have been identified:
- 20-30% of workplace accidents can be associated with alcohol in safety-critical industries such as construction (NHS, 2006)
- 27% of employers say drug misuse is a problem at work while 60% have experienced problems due to staff drinking alcohol (Alcohol Concern, 2010)
- 33% of employees admit to being at work with a hangover from the night before, which they accept impacts directly on their own productivity and safety (Institute of Alcohol Studies, 2015)
- 3-5% of all absences each year are due to alcohol (Trade Union Congress, 2010)
- 17 million working days a year are lost in England due to alcohol-related sickness, with more than a third of adults admitting to having used illegal drugs (Health and Safety at work, 2007)
- £12.2 billion is spent each year on alcohol-sickness absence costs in the UK (Faculty of Public Health, 2006)
- 3 million deaths a year are a result of harmful drugs and alcohol use (World Health Organisation, 2015)
In order to gain a more up to date and direct representation of how the industry feels about the issue, the Scheme gathered information through an industry survey. Over 1,200 participants responded, proving the subject was clearly an important issue. The following results were identified:
- 59% agreed there is an issue in the industry related to drugs and alcohol
- 39% admitted the issue of drugs or alcohol could be better tackled in their workplace
- 65% admitted they have never been tested for drugs and alcohol
- 35% have noticed their colleagues under the influence of drugs and alcohol
- 25% agreed drugs or alcohol affected them at work through tiredness
- 23% agreed it affected them through decreased attention during work
- 19% agreed the affects made them less productive at work
Responses also showed a positive approach was being taken to tackle the issue, with sites providing information on drugs and alcohol through toolbox talks, site inductions and resources such as posters. Alcohol policies are often clearly displayed and many companies take a zero tolerance approach to drugs and alcohol.
While it is clear that the industry is aware of this issue, there is evidence to suggest that more can be done, and in some cases, needs to be done. There is now a greater requirement for more testing to be conducted both on site and in office locations. Although testing raises a highly sensitive subject of privacy and legalities, some believe it is the only way to properly regulate the issue, with a general consensus that random testing is beneficial.
Any initiatives such as random testing should focus equally on all personnel within a company, including site and office based employees, not simply operatives. Also, like many other subjects in the industry that require resources and manpower to tackle, it is smaller companies which generally have a more difficult time implementing such a comprehensive and thorough approach.
It is crucial that testing is carried out legally and correctly for any company which decides to include drugs and alcohol testing within their policy. Testing should only be carried out by a professional testing agency or a fully certified and accredited employee. A professional agency will send specialised staff to visit the premises and carry out testing, as well as produce results. An accredited employee is a member of staff who is qualified under a professional agency to perform testing for their own workforce.
It is also important to recognise testing may not be included in every company’s drugs and alcohol policy and therefore the workforce cannot be subject to testing if it is not stated in this document.