Congratulations on an insightful article (14 July, page 28) that starts to peel away the layers covering drug and alcohol abuse on site.
I do believe however that the article underestimates the issue. We may have tackled the liquid lunch, but after-hours drinking is still endemic. Drinks manufacturers are supplying higher alcohol content drinks that stay in the system longer – eight pints of Stella and you’re still over the drink–drive limit at 1pm the following day. How many site workers would this affect?
Drug use is prevalent in society at large and this too is likely to be mirrored on site. For example, 40 million tabs of ecstasy are sold in the UK every year, amphetamine use is increasing and cannabis is widely available, and this is without any consideration of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. This means that tens of thousands of workers could be reporting for work on site every day with residual traces of drugs in their system. Some will be operating machinery, some driving vehicles, some working at height, and some just armed with a notebook.
Some drugs pass through the system quickly. Many, however, do not and their effects, like excessive alcohol, can be felt the following day. This may be evidenced by slowness and lethargy at one end of the spectrum or excessive risk-taking at the other.
Testing is one way to tackle the issue, but this must be dealt with sensitively; unless the work is safety-critical, compulsory random testing is tricky to enforce and legislation protects the individual from abuse of process. Pre-employment screening can highlight problem individuals before they arrive on site; however, many companies would shy away from this on cost grounds.
Network Rail published a useful guide on the effects of alcohol for its workers, quantifying the effects and giving guidance for each drink type so you can calculate easily your limits; a similar publication would be useful for the construction industry.
As an aside, however, your following article “Building buys a pint” was an interesting counterpoint! Maybe you should change this to “Building buys a smoothie” in future.
Heather Northey, N:management