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Though the number of workplace fatalities has been declining since 2006, construction still has one of the highest fatality rates of any industry, with 3.6 deaths per 100,000 full-time employees reported in 2010. Falls, electrocutions and workers being caught, crushed or struck by machines or other objects are the leading causes of death. One of the most effective and simplest ways to prevent these incidents, and potential fatalities, is to implement a corporate substance abuse policy.
Substance abuse causes 35 percent of all workplace injuries and fatalities, 35 percent of all absences, 38 percent to 50 percent of all workers’ compensation claims and 40 percent of thefts, according to the risk management firm Drug-Free Solutions Group, LLC. It also causes a person’s performance level to drop to 67 percent of his or her potential, and leads to a 300 percent increase in medical costs compared to someone without a substance abuse problem.

Alcohol abuse is more prevalent in construction than in any other industry besides food service, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Thirty-five percent of employees hospitalized for workplace-related injuries are at-risk drinkers, and an employee with an alcohol problem is 2.7 times more likely to miss work due to an injury. Twenty-four percent of workers admitted to drinking at work during the past year, and one-fifth of employees said their safety and productivity has been at risk due to a fellow employee’s drinking habits.

Alcohol abuse isn’t the only problem employers encounter in the workplace. A report by the U.S. Department of Transportation found marijuana potency has increased 500 percent to 800 percent in the past several years. THC (the active ingredient) is stored in body fat and released over time, resulting in a prolonged effect on job performance. Cocaine is also prevalent and frequently leads to workplace theft, forgetfulness, absenteeism and tardiness. Opiates, which include painkillers and heroin, can increase a worker’s chance of being involved in an accident due to mental or physical impairments and cause side effects such as nausea and drowsiness.

To combat drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace, 31 states have workplace drug testing laws on the books. Many employers also have company-wide substance abuse policies that include a list of substances banned in the workplace, drug screening policies and guidelines, disciplinary actions for substance abuse offenders and rehabilitation plans for employees who test positive for a banned substance.

To help lower the high percentages of abuse in the industry and continue improving contractors’ safety records, several national trade groups recently joined forces to form the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace. Associated Builders and Contractors, The Associated General Contractors of America, Construction Industry Round Table, Construction Users Roundtable and Women Construction Owners and Executives formed the coalition to urge construction-related firms and organizations to sign an online pledge signifying they will create and maintain a workplace free from substance abuse. In addition to the pledge, the coalition’s website, www.drugfreeconstruction.org, includes a model substance abuse policy, industry best practices, educational materials and state-by-state policies for substance abuse testing.

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