Alcohol and drugs – time for the industry to adopt official legislation?
Over recent years, alcohol and drugs misuse has been an increasing issue for the UK construction sector, with many workers reporting them as a wide-spread problem. And although many contractors and suppliers now include comprehensive screening programmes as part of their company policy, it seems that alcohol and drug impairment continue to haunt the industry.
A survey carried out last year by the Considerate Constructors Scheme revealed that despite 35% of people saying they had noticed colleagues under the influence of drugs and alcohol during working hours, 65% said that they had never been screened or tested for either by their employer.
In August, eight people were killed on the M1 in an incident involving a minibus and two lorries. One of the lorry drivers – Ryszard Masierak, who was operating a truck for a major supplier – faces trial for a string of offences including causing death by careless driving while over the prescribed alcohol limit. And although it is not compulsory for the construction industry to screen for alcohol or drugs, lawfully the driver’s employer could still be held accountable.
So what is the law for drugs and alcohol testing in the workplace? While drugs and alcohol testing are legislated for in certain sectors, such as the aviation, rail and shipping industries, there is no legal obligation for the construction industry to adopt any specific testing policies.
However, employers do have a duty of care to maintain a safe working environment under the provisions of the Health and Safety at Work Act. If methods for detecting misuse are not implemented and an accident occurs, it’s employers who could face hefty fines or even be prosecuted.
At the end of 2017, Renault Trucks announced it was partnering with AlcoDigital – which provides professional alcohol and drugs screening equipment and training to the construction industry – to include Draeger Interlock 7000 alcohol safety devices as an option on Renault’s latest range of LCV Master business fleet vehicles.
The safety devices, which will be fitted to the vehicles as an added extra at the customer’s request, will monitor drivers by requiring them to pass a breathalyzer test before they can start the engine. If the driver fails the test, the interlock will automatically disable the vehicle for a pre-specified amount of time set by the company. The device can then request further tests throughout the journey.
Suzannah Robin, who has been an alcohol and drugs safety expert at AlcoDigital for over 14 years, said: “As many as 6,500 deaths could be prevented annually if drink driving was eliminated in Europe. Several studies have already shown that an alcohol interlock fitted to a vehicle, where a driver has to pass a breath test prior to being allowed to start the engine, has been very effective in cutting repeat drink driving offences.”
While interlocks are a great preventative measure for drink drivers on the road, they are also extremely versatile and can be utilised on site machinery. For example, in forklift trucks or cranes. Another form of interlock device, which requires no mouthpiece, can also be fitted to unsupervised turnstiles, electric gates, and other barrier systems – working 24/7 to prevent anyone impaired by alcohol from entering site.
Alongside interlock devices, professional breathalysers are also key for preventing alcohol misuse across the trade. For example, a handheld screener that requires no mouthpiece and provides results in seconds is ideal for checking individuals for alcohol at manned entrances.
If a worker is found to have alcohol in their system, a further test from a Home Office approved breathalyser should be carried out to verify the results. Thus ensuring that certified information can be provided in the event it is required for legal reasons.
Meanwhile, impairment from drugs – both illegal narcotics and prescription medication – also needs to be addressed by the industry.
According to a survey carried out in 2015 by risk assessors protecting.co.uk on employees from a range of sectors, including construction, nearly a third of them admitted to using drugs at work. A significant number of them claimed to be ‘under the influence’ every working day. In fact, many of those admitting to taking drugs were using cannabis or other illegal narcotics.
Suzannah added: “As a minimum, the industry should be aiming to test 100% of their workforce every 12 months for drugs. A pre-employment test would also be highly valuable for setting in place the expectations for new staff joining the company. The policies and testing methods used subsequently would then depend on the company’s day-to-day business activities, but can be implemented at a very low cost. Certainly anyone employing commercial drivers, or operating heavy machinery, should have a regular drugs and alcohol testing policy in place.”
Over the last decade, huge progress has been made in terms of tackling illegal drug use and alcohol abuse in the workplace. Now it’s time for the construction industry to address the issues head-on and direct their attention towards putting in place policies and practices to make drug and alcohol screening compulsory across the industry.
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