INDIANAPOLIS - Across the nation, companies are enforcing drug-testing policies - and while these policies have helped improve employee performance in most work settings, they are especially crucial on construction sites.

Workers need to be alert at all times to ensure greater safety. Accidents and injuries caused by drug use or drinking on the job can increase lost time, decrease productivity, send insurance rates skyrocketing, and create delays that will throw a project off-schedule. Construction end-users need to make sure they are employing a 100 percent drug-free workforce to improve the bottom line and, most importantly, save lives.

"Drug-testing will play a key role in the success of Indiana's booming construction industry," said John Rayburn, executive vice president of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Indiana (MCAI). "Indianapolis alone is one of the nation's fastest growing markets for nonresidential construction. If Indiana building owners and contractors want to stay on-time and on-budget, they need to take steps to ensure sober, drug-free worksites."

Construction firms of every size, from large international corporations to smaller local contractors, can benefit from drug-testing, according to Jonathan Gerber, author of the Cornell University study, "An Evaluation of Drug Testing in the Workplace: A Study of the Construction Industry."

"The implementation of drug-testing by employers leads to improvements in work quality, productivity, discipline, employee morale, and accident and absenteeism rates," Gerber said.

"The No. 1 reason employers drug-test employees and job applicants is to promote and protect the safety, health, and well-being of their employees, and those who use their products and services. In safety-sensitive occupations there simply is no room for error. Would you want to ride on a subway driven by a conductor who had just smoked marijuana? The bottom line is that drug-testing works - and works well."

While workplace safety is a major issue, productivity also factors into the reasons for implementing drug-testing. "The link between substance abuse in the workplace and decreased productivity is undeniable and has costs which are unacceptable to any reasonable person," added Gerber. "The causes of this diminished productivity include higher absenteeism and turnover and lower performance. Drug testing has been shown to effectively reduce workforce drug abuse, as employees are less likely to misuse drugs or alcohol while the possibility of being tested exists."

The MCAI and Indiana Pipe Trades believe so strongly in the value of drug-testing, they have set in place a statewide drug and alcohol testing policy for their workers. "Under the policy, all employees are expected to report to work free of alcohol and illegal drugs," said Randy Brown, business manager of Local 136 in Evansville, Ind. Workers belonging to this local union receive random drug-testing. "Workers cannot sell, purchase, distribute, dispense, possess, or use alcohol or drugs - or conspire to do any of these activities - on a worksite.

"Also, employees are expected not to misuse or abuse prescription or nonprescription medications."

"Each month, one-twelfth of the local workers are randomly tested," added Rayburn, "so by the end of the year, 100 percent have been tested." Workers who have tested drug-free are given identification cards that reflect the results of the employee's most recent negative drug/alcohol testing. To be allowed to work on a project, workers must possess a valid card.

In addition to the random testing, employees involved in an accident/incident, or who demonstrate a reasonable cause for testing, are required to be tested. Urine and blood tests are performed by laboratories certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If an employee who tested "positive" wishes for the results to be double-checked, he or she can make a written request for retesting of the original sample at another accredited lab.

The worker must face consequences when final testing results have determined substance abuse - but these consequences take into consideration that the worker needs help and guidance. "Upon detection, the goal is to help the worker overcome their dependency," said Rayburn. "MCAI and the Indiana State Pipe Trades encourage all workers troubled by their own or a family member's drug or alcohol abuse to seek professional care and treatment."

Any employee who voluntarily identifies himself as having a drug- or alcohol-related problem will not be disciplined for sharing that information. The employee must hand in his identification card and seek counseling, rehabilitation, or treatment to eliminate their dependency.

MCAI and the Indiana Pipe Trades provide an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for workers and their families who need professional guidance in assessing and treating their dependency problem. If the worker participates in treatment and successfully completes the counseling/rehabilitation/treatment program as verified in writing by the EAP, the worker can head back to the jobsite after passing a return-to-work test. The EAP may recommend follow-up counseling and/or treatment. Return-to-work testing helps ensure that workers do not return to old abuse habits. During the entire process, confidentiality for the worker is assured.

"The policy is working great," said Dave Posey, business manager at United Association Local 440, one of the many locals participating in the drug-testing process throughout Indiana. "The response from the business community and the industry has been very positive. The business owners belonging to the Indiana Construction Roundtable have accepted it with open arms, along with a nationwide group, the Construction Users Roundtable."

The policy has also yielded positive results and a favorable response from workers and their families. "The reports we get from the EAP indicate the problem has gone down considerably," Posey said. "We hardly have any abuse incidents now - less than half a percent of abuse among 1,900 workers. Spouses of workers have called to thank us for starting the program, and workers have also called to thank us for straightening out their lives."

"Promoting safer worksites and greater productivity are top priorities for the MCA of Indiana," noted Rayburn. "We want to see Indiana construction thrive, and drugs and alcohol have no place on the worksite. We'll do whatever we can to keep all forms of substance abuse out of workers' lives."

Publication date: 05/02/2005