Drug Testing in Construction

Drug Testing in Construction

Robert Bradford, Chair of CECA National Health & Safety Forum has written a CECA Scotland blog on drug testing.

We hope this will stimulate debate and we would welcome member feedback.

The issue will also be considered at the next meeting of the Scottish Construction Safety Group on 22nd November, where a presentation will be delivered by Release, the national centre for expertise on drugs. We would encourage CECA Scotland members to attend and input into the discussion.

Drug Testing in Construction

by Robert Bradford

“In recent years, the number of CECA members seeking assistance and advice in the area of drug testing has grown significantly.

Anecdotally, members involved in carrying out drug testing are reporting that drug use is being discovered amongst a much higher proportion of the workforce than would have been expected. As a consequence, disciplinary measures have been imposed, placing a strain on both the businesses concerned and the available labour pool neither of which are sustainable.

Concerns are increasingly being expressed that the tests currently available through urinalysis or saliva testing of significant percentages of the workforce, are simply no longer proving effective in either reducing undesired incidents or deterring drug misuse.

Whilst neither CECA nor member companies would sanction any worker or their colleagues being placed at risk due to impairment through drug use, there is a genuine concern that the detection of drug use, of itself, may not represent an impairment at the time of testing.

Moral argument could be made that any use of illegal drugs is unacceptable to employers but this has to be balanced by the fact that legal drugs (caffeine, alcohol, nicotine etc.) and many prescription drugs can impact on work performance.

Let’s consider warnings on over the counter medication stating, “May cause drowsiness” or “Do not operate heavy machinery”.  It is also possible that individuals may travel internationally and quite legally use certain substances, which may prove detectable on return to the workplace.

The reality is that the area of identifying and quantifying impairment through drugs is much more complex than simply identifying their presence, yet there appears to be relatively little research carried out in this area.  This is especially apparent when we contrast the approach to alcohol, which has been well researched and quantified, resulting in a well-defined and well understood correlation between detected and measured levels and impairment.

Comparison is often made with police activity in relation to driving whilst unfit through drink or drugs and it must be borne in mind that roadside detection resulting in suspicion of an offence, is always followed up with further testing of blood to provide evidential definition. Clearly the carrying out of blood sampling and testing is considerably more onerous than urinalysis or saliva testing and is not perceived to be particularly prevalent in civil engineering nor construction generally.

The police have the authority to stop vehicles at any time but generally only carry out testing for drugs and alcohol where they believe the driver may be under the influence or following a traffic offence or a collision.

It is reported on some websites that it is commonplace for a Field Impairment Test (FIT) to be used by police as an initial attempt to identify those who may be unfit through drug use or misuse. Where there is a suspicion through the observation of a FIT, the police will then arrest and move to testing of bodily fluids. The Code of Practice for Field Impairment Testing is linked below as well as some descriptions of how it is carried out.

In the context of the queries as received, HSE guidance  provides examples of observable behaviour where individuals may be under the influence of drugs. Member companies may wish to consider restricting testing to those individuals displaying behaviour as identified in the guidance or following incidents. They may also wish to consider the implementation of Field Impairment Testing as a further filter prior to moving to saliva testing or urinalysis.

I’d welcome any feedback CECA members have on this issue and hope you will find the weblinks below useful.

Further info

Consideration of workers’ rights in respect of monitoring including drug testing

Consideration of how long specific drugs may be detectable

Field Impairment testing