Drug and Alcohol Testing

Sept. 1, 2008
Gx Bug Web

I doubt that the subject of drug and alcohol abuse is any dearer to your heart than mine, and that’s part of the problem. We don’t like to think about it. So why, if it the subject is not high on our list of favorites, talk about it here? How about:

  • Worker compensation: 38% to 50% of all Workers’ Compensation claims are related to substance abuse in the workplace; substance abusers file three to five times as many claims.
  • Medical costs: Substance abusers incur 300% higher medical costs than non-abusers.
  • Absenteeism: Substance abusers are 2.5 times more likely to be absent eight or more days a year.
  • Lost productivity: Substance abusers are one-third less productive.

Certainly a part of our reluctance is the worry that once we pry open the lid, we won’t like what’s there. Another is that you’re saying to your people that you don’t trust them to do the right thing for themselves.

And then there’s the money thing. A drug-and-alcohol testing program is not cheap. It requires time, effort, attention to detail, and follow-through; and when all is said and done, it’s difficult to equate the value of the program to your P&L statement’s bottom line…after all, the success of such a program is a matter of what isn’t there. For a program to be effective it should include at the very least the following:

  • Specimen collection
  • Drug testing
  • Confirmation on positive testing
  • Employee assistance program

Just this past week I received a news release explaining that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 164 and the Northern New Jersey Chapter of the Electrical Contractors Association entered into collaboration to educate other trade organizations as well as local, state, and federal officials regarding the benefits associated with mandatory substance abuse testing for construction workers.

The bulletin went on to express the thought of Local 164’s business manager, Richard Dressel, that if the program had the effect of keeping just one drug or alcohol abuser off a job site, it had achieved its goal. I decided to contact Dressel to get the story.

“It took the better part of six years to accomplish this, as my contractor association was reluctant to get involved,” Dressel explains, “and it took almost as long for the New Jersey Construction Users Roundtable (CRT) to accept our test in lieu of the onsite testing that they require all of my members to do when they have a construction project going. The CRT came onboard when it was proven that our testing procedures were actually better than theirs. My contractors came onboard when I funded the testing for the first year.”

Testing commenced this past January with all 4,000 members receiving baseline tests over a 10-week period, after which random sampling began.

“Our procedures call for every member of the active work force (traveling members of all other locals included) to be tested at least once annually, and 25% of that same active work force randomly sampled during the course of the year, “Dressel says, adding that after testing, each cleared person is provided a “clean card” photo ID containing the date of his or her last successful test.

When members are tapped to take the random test, they have 48 hours to get to a lab and provide a sample. Since testing is not performed on company time, members of Local 164 then get $50 as compensation for their participation.

“The first offense carries with it a 30-day suspension from work, and that member has to partake in mandatory counseling through the mental health company attached to our welfare fund,” Dressel says. Once members have provided a “clean test” at their own expense and get a release from counseling, they can return to work.

The second offense carries with it a 60-day suspension, with the same parameters. In the case of a third offense, the suspension period is upped to 90 days, though as Dressel points out, “All of the professionals we deal with tell me that by then the offenders have either cleaned up or found another career.”

How have the members responded? According to Dressel, once the program got under way, resistance was replaced by pride as the “clean card” holders came to the realization that a significant threat to their security on the job site had been removed.

Of course those who failed may not see themselves as beneficiaries, but they’re free to exercise their freedom of choice elsewhere.