Cracking down on drug and alcohol consumption on site

More than a third of workers within the construction industry have seen someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs on site. That was one of the most shocking findings from a 2016 report by the Considerate Constructors Scheme.

Approximately 65% said they have never been tested for drugs or alcohol consumption despite most of the major contractors claiming they have a clear policy in place which includes routine testing on site.

During the summer, whistleblower reports emerged of workers at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium “off their heads, drinking cans first thing in the morning before going on to site and snorting coke in the toilets” suggests that our industry has a problem with drug and alcohol abuse.

Unfortunately, there is very little data available that would allow us to identify the true scale of the problem and the Health and Safety Executive does not even keep a record of accidents on site where drugs or alcohol have likely to have been a contributing factor.

This lack of “hard data” means we can only speculate on the reasons why drug and alcohol abuse appears to be so prevalent across the industry. One explanation is that workers may be self-medicating to relieve musculoskeletal disorders – a particular common medical complaint arising from the physical demands of many roles within construction. 

However, others believe mental health problems may be a factor. Research conducted by Construction News in 2018 found that 57% of the industry workforce had experienced mental health issues and one in four had contemplated suicide at some point.

The relationship between mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety and substance abuse is complex: in some cases, people turn to alcohol or drugs as a means of coping with mental health issues; in other cases, mental health issues can develop from excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs.

Whatever the cause of drug or alcohol abuse, it is never acceptable to put yourself or others in danger by reporting to site while under the influence and media reports of substance abuse will only further taint the industry’s reputation, which has already come under intense scrutiny.

Although the Considerate Constructors Scheme recently launched an online course aimed at contractors on drugs and alcohol awareness, it is clear that much more needs to be done to educate workers on the dangers of substance abuse and to enforce a zero-tolerance approach to drugs and alcohol.