Constructing an Alcohol Policy for the Construction Industry

The construction industry has a major influence on Australian lives in many ways, and people rely on the workers meeting quality standards.  Unfortunately the construction industry is also infamous for having some of the highest rates of alcohol and drug related accidents. The industry, whilst not able to claim the top position amongst Australian employers, is in the top five.1

A 2010 study on alcohol use reported the following about the construction industry:

  • 9.4 percent of construction workers drink at risky and high risk levels at least once a week
  • 10.6 percent drink alcohol whilst on the job
  • 6 percent have worked whilst under the influence

drug free workplace, workplace drug testThe demographics that are most associated with workplace alcohol consumption include younger aged workers who are male and single. The commercial construction industry has a large component of workers who fit these demographics, and it is not surprising to researchers to find that alcohol use at work is prevalent.

In investigating causation, it seems the construction industry worksites and interpersonal practices offer up the ideal conditions for excessive drinking. Drinking is often more like a ritual with workers meeting frequently after work at drinking establishment. In Australia, work related drinking norms include drinking with workmates after work. Since construction workers must function as a team, all too often they see the drinking as a chance to bond, share stories and experiences, and relieve stress.2

It is also workplace conditions that contribute to alcoholism amongst construction workers. These conditions include hot and dusty worksites, boring or monotonous work, dangerous or stressful work, and lack of control over work.3 Construction sites are certainly hot, dusty and dangerous. Many workers have tedious boring job assignments and most have no input into their job.

Unfortunately many construction companies have a drug and alcohol policy that prohibits drinking on the job or showing up for work whilst under the influence, but there is no actual testing program in place. The workers are not tested in a blanket or random testing program. One reason for this is due to the fact that workers often go straight from home to the worksite and may not visit the employer’s home office location for weeks at a time.

In a case involving Gladstone Power Station, trade unions tried to object to the company using a blood alcohol content (BAC) cut off limit of .02 percent instead of the typical .05 percent. The union also objected to including a random drug and alcohol testing component because it was too comprehensive. The matter was heard by the American Industrial Relations Commission. The Commission determined that the BAC of .02 percent was reasonable given the high risk hazards and complex task demands. The Commission also supported the random drug testing at remote sites.4

This same logic applies to the construction industry. Testing employees at remote locations or on-the-job is possible because of the portable drug and alcohol testing kits available today like the Lion Alcoblow.  Employers can take the testing program to the job site as opposed to requiring workers to come to the employer’s home office site. Past Commission decisions even support testing construction workers to stricter standards due to the hazardous nature of the work. Employers must also acknowledge and address the workplace factors that promote alcohol and drug use. These factors include organisational, structural, physical and social meaning the workplace is a distinct cultural environment with shared norms, values and practices.5 Adapting the drug and alcohol policy and procedures to the distinct environment is crucial.

Mediscreen (http://mediscreen.net.au/index.php?mod=home) professionals have the expertise needed to help construction industry employers address complex drug and alcohol testing issues.  Employers will find there is quality equipment available for field alcohol and drug testing.

References

1 Pidd, Kean and Ann Roche (2010, December 3). Workplace Health Promotion: Healthy Choices or Cultural Forces? Retrieved June 4, 2011, from National Centre for Education & Training on Addiction: http://bit.ly/n54NfI

2 Construction & Other Industries Drug & Alcohhol Program. (2011). Retrieved June 3, 2011, from South Australian Building Industry Redundancy Scheme Trust: http://www.birst.com.au/drug-alcohol-program.htm#Documents

3 Op. Cit., Pidd and Roche

4 Rauf, B. & Elgar, B. (2010). Fitness for Duty in the Mining Industry – A Legal Perspective. Retrieved March 19, 2011, from Queensland Resources Council: http://www.qrc.org.au/conference/_dbase_upl/humphreys_Fitness%20for%20Duty.pdf

5 Op. Cit., Pidd and Roche

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