Safe Solutions

Drug and alcohol testing

In the construction industry, the numbers of injuries and fatalities caused by falls and transportation incidents often are reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, statistics are sparse regarding the contributing roles drug and alcohol use play in workplace injuries and fatalities.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that in 2005, almost 75 percent of illicit drug users 18 and older were employed full or part time. In addition, 10 to 20 percent of workers who suffered a workplace fatality in 2005 tested positive for alcohol or other drugs. And, not surprisingly, OSHA reports the industries with the highest rates of drug use among their workers also are at high risk for occupational injuries, such as construction and manufacturing.

Company risk

Although it is difficult to determine accurate values, the overall cost to U.S. businesses from alcohol or substance abuse among workers is estimated to be more than $100 billion per year, according to various sources. Various researchers estimate that lost productivity, increased medical costs, and other expenses related to an employee's alcohol or substance abuse can cost a company more than $7,000 per year.

Some researchers believe moderate alcohol users pose a greater risk to a company's stability than heavy users because there may be more moderate drinkers than heavy drinkers. Moderate alcohol use also increases injury risk, and because more of the working population may engage in such use, the risk to a company is greater. This theory shows that insidious substance abuse may pose the greatest threat to your company.


It is difficult to discern workplace drug testing's effectiveness toward changing employee behavior with respect to drug and alcohol use. It may not be feasible to have an employee who is involved in a workplace accident tested for drugs or alcohol at the time of the incident, which makes it difficult to determine the connection between substance abuse and the accident.

However, some researchers have found that companies that instituted post-accident drug testing experienced a decline in injury claims. Under numerous workers' compensation provisions, a claim may be denied if it can be proved that a worker was impaired by illegal drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident.

Alcohol and drug testing rules established by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for commercial motor vehicle operators help ensure vehicles' safe operation on interstate highways; roofing contractors seeking to establish a more broad-based drug and alcohol testing program involving all employees could use this protocol.

Following are DOT-required tests:

  • Pre-employment test—performed before a driver may perform safety-sensitive functions for an employer
  • Post-accident test—required if a fatality, bodily injury or property damage occurred and the driver received a citation
  • Random test—a minimum percentage of drivers (usually 10 percent) is tested yearly through a procedure that randomly selects test candidates from all company drivers
  • Reasonable suspicion test—conducted as a result of an employer's belief that a driver has violated drug and alcohol use rules based on specific observations of the driver's appearance, behavior or speech
  • Return-to-duty and follow-up tests—a process for evaluating a driver's competence to resume safety-sensitive functions. It involves not only drug and alcohol testing but more comprehensive education and treatment for substance abuse problems.

Staying safe

Some experts believe drug and alcohol testing is the first step to ensure a safe and healthy work force; a comprehensive drug and alcohol testing program may be a valuable tool for your company.

Harry Dietz is NRCA's director of risk management.


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