Drug and alcohol abuse in the UK construction industry

Drug and alcohol abuse can be a serious issue for companies in all industries. But there are a number of sectors where having employees misusing drugs or alcohol can pose a serious risk to the health and safety of themselves and others.

Construction is one such industry. Drawing on Health and Safety Executive figures, Active HSE rates construction as the second most dangerous job in the UK, behind farming. It explains:

‘From heights and protective gear to dangerous equipment and unsafe structures, construction has a high injury rate of 3.1% as well as one of the highest rates of workplace deaths.’

Construction work can involve things like operating heavy machinery, clearing hazardous materials from site, unloading materials from lorries, assembling and disassembling structures, digging tunnels and shafts and so much more. The risks can be severe if construction workers don’t follow health and safety regulations.

Suffice to say, construction demands workers’ undivided attention. They need to be in a fit and healthy state in order to work safely in this dangerous and accident-heavy industry – and that means leaving drugs and alcohol well alone.

Maybe you’re someone who works in construction and has learned their lesson the hard way. If you were caught driving your van under the influence of either alcohol or drugs on the way to or from work, you may have received a fine, been banned from driving or even lost your construction job as a result.

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A construction worker using a spirit level on site

Drug and alcohol misuse in construction: what the stats say  

Unfortunately, there is an issue with drug and alcohol abuse in construction within the UK. In a study of more than 1,300 industry workers carried out by the Considerate Constructors Scheme, 35% said that they have noticed their colleagues under the influence of either alcohol or drugs while on the job.

Here are some other findings:
  • 59% are concerned about the effects of drugs and alcohol in the industry
  • 65% have never undergone a test for drugs or alcohol
  • 39% believe the issue of drugs or alcohol could be better addressed by their employer
  • 25% agreed that drugs or alcohol impacted them at work through tiredness
  • 23% agreed that it impacted them by reducing their attention span
  • 19% agreed that the effects of drugs or alcohol made them less productive

Edward Hardy, chief executive of the Considerate Constructors Scheme, noted: “Maintaining a safe working environment is of the 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 impact of drugs and alcohol

Drugs and alcohol affect us all in different ways. But none of the potential effects someone might experience through drink or drugs will have a positive impact on their ability to work – they will always prove a hindrance.

Just some potential side effects from drink or drugs include:
  • Reduced awareness, including hearing and vision
  • Lower concentration levels and difficulty focusing
  • Poor judgement and decision-making
  • Poor coordination or balance

Any of these potential side effects could be extremely dangerous – if not fatal – when working on a construction site.

An empty beer glass in a dark room

Drug testing in the industry

While drug testing is legislated in many sectors – such as rail, aviation and shipping – surprisingly it isn’t mandatory in construction. Yet.

The Trades Union Congress notes how, despite claims from drugs-testing companies, there’s no concrete evidence showing that drug-testing is becoming commonplace in British workplaces where testing isn’t required by law. However, it did explain that there is increased usage of drug-testing in the construction sector.

It points out that where wide-scale drug testing has been considered by employers or industries, it has been rejected typically due to concerns about costs or about the effectiveness of the testing.

Though, as drug and alcohol testing company Cansford Laboratories writes, this isn’t to say that the UK’s construction industry is shying away from testing. An increasing number of the industry’s bigger organisations are now creating their own guidelines.

Barratt Homes, for instance, introduced random drug tests in late 2018. Meanwhile Interserve plc says it “maintains an extensive platform of information, resources, police and support” to tackle drug and alcohol usage, carrying out testing on contractors as well as permanent employees.

Random testing

The extent of drug and alcohol abuse in construction was truly laid bare following random drug testing of staff at an international construction firm.

The test was conducted by reputable drugs testing agency Screen Safe UK and the results were extremely concerning: 100% of employees failed.

“Even we were surprised,” said Screen Safe MD Matthew Taylor of the results. “But within six months, through promoting awareness of random testing and proper education, the figure was down to between five and 10 per cent.”

A construction worker with a hammer hanging from their belt

What does the future hold?

While initiatives such as random testing may help to lower alcohol and substance abuse in the sector, Cansford Labs believes the best solution to the problem would be sector-wide regulation of drug and alcohol testing.

It explains how there are various methods of testing and testing scenarios that could be applied. Pre-employment hair testing could be used to determine pre-existing substance abuse within the past year, while random, for-cause and post-incident tests could help to make sure that rehabilitation and safety are top on construction firms’ agendas.

For now, though, it’s down to the employer to create their own policies on the matter, making sure they are putting the health and safety of their people and the wider public first.

How to find van insurance for convicted drivers

Remember, if you’re looking to get back on the road following a motoring or non-motoring offence, the Insurance Factory can provide tradesmen and women with van insurance for convicted drivers. Get a quote today!