In the past five years, more than 20 states (and the District of Columbia) have either legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes or decriminalized possession of small amounts of the substance. Two states—Colorado and Washington—have voted to legalize marijuana entirely.

Legalization of marijuana—along with the explosive growth in synthetic drug use—poses a serious threat to the construction industry. When alcohol and other illegal drugs are included, substance abuse costs America’s employers, on average, nearly $100 billion per year in workers’ compensation claims, equipment damage and lost productivity. The International Risk Management Institute cites that substance abusers have incidence rates 3.6 times above normal and are two and a half times more likely to be absent from work. In construction alone, 15.6 percent of employees reported using illegal drugs in the previous 30 days, according to an analysis by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The monetary and productivity costs of substance abuse are important, but they pale in comparison to the physical and emotional damage that substance abuse-related injuries and fatalities wreak on construction workers. A joint U.S. Department of Labor/private sector study cited that 38 percent to 50 percent of all workers’ compensation claims are related to substance abuse. With a Total Recordable Incidence Rate (TRIR) of 3.7 injuries per 100 full-time employees, one to two construction industry employees out of 100 are injured because they, or someone they work with, caused an incident while under the influence. Worse, out of the more than 700 construction industry fatalities per year, at least 250 can be attributed to substance abuse, based on 2012 Department of Labor statistics.

Even one injury is unacceptable. That’s why, in 2012, four leading construction industry organizations formed the Construction Coalition for a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace (CCDAFW). Founding members included Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), Associated General Contractors of America, Construction Industry Round Table and Construction Users Roundtable. Representing employers, employees and the owner/user communities, these organizations joined forces with the goal of eliminating substance abuse in the construction industry.

“When the CCDAFW was formed, we did so recognizing that substance abuse in our industry was a major cause of injuries on our jobsites,” says ABC President and CEO Michael Bellaman. “At least one-third of all incidents were being caused by an employee coming to work under the influence or after having made poor decisions on the jobsite. So, we asked ourselves: How can we eliminate the root cause of these injuries and achieve our goal of a zero-incident jobsite? The answer was to come together and pool our resources, expertise and power to educate the industry on the hazards of substance abuse, as well as how to properly detect possible cases and head them off before they resulted in injuries.” 

In 2015, the CCDAFW welcomed two new members: Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) and NCCER. Representing both industry members and training organizations, IEC and NCCER provide new avenues to promote the CCDAFW’s solutions to the substance abuse epidemic.

“Workplace safety goes beyond having the proper personal protective equipment; it includes being mentally sharp and prepared to react,” says IEC National Executive Vice President/CEO Thayer Long. “That is why IEC fully supports the unequivocal elimination of substance abuse in the workplace. We are proud to join other organizations in the pledge for a drug- and alcohol-free workplace.”

Through the coalition’s website, www.drugfreeconstruction.org, companies can sign the Drug-and Alcohol-Free Workplace Pledge committing themselves to working toward eliminating substance abuse in the construction industry. To date, more than 3,300 industry partners have signed the pledge.

The website also contains numerous free resources developed by CCDAFW members and their industry partners. They include a state-by-state guide of testing laws, guidance on how to test for substance abuse before an incident, examples of how to talk to employees about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, and, most importantly, sample substance abuse policies containing testing procedures. 

For 2015, the CCDAFW is developing updated substance abuse policies that address employer and employee rights in states where marijuana has been legalized, as well as testing policies and procedures for synthetic substances.

A 2002 study from JK Gerber & GS Yacoubian showed that the workers’ compensation Experience Modification Ratings of companies with substance abuse policies that included some form of drug testing were lower than those of companies that did not employ testing procedures. In addition, the average injury claim declined after implementing drug testing.

“Our ultimate goal is to make sure that every one of our industry’s employees goes home at the end of the day in the same—or better—condition than which they arrived,” Bellaman says. “By eliminating the injuries and fatalities caused by substance abuse, we can make substantial progress toward that goal and help eliminate the emotional damage that these incidents cause our employees and their families.” 


Chris Williams is safety director for Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email cwilliams@abc.org or visit www.drugfreeconstruction.org