John Smith seemed like the ideal employee. With tons of relevant experience and an easy-going personality, how could Construction Company X not hire him? Nothing about him suggested that he drank like a fish and liked to do drugs on the weekend-until his weekend activities bled over into the work week, and then there were problems.

Expensive equipment started disappearing, and John was irritable and picked fights with his coworkers. Then one day, he caused a terrible accident that landed his buddy in the hospital. True, this particular example is fictional. But don't think for a moment that this couldn't happen to your company or that it doesn't happen all the time in the construction industry.

In a high-risk industry like construction, employers are responsible for providing a safe work environment, free from preventable hazards. And given that statistics show approximately 10 percent or more of construction workforce abuses drugs, resulting in increased workplace violence, theft and accidents, employers can't afford to ignore this risk. As an owner, it is your responsibility to provide a safe and drug-free work environment.


Don't think you or your company is responsible? Legally, workplace violence is governed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a division of the Department of Labor. OSHA clearly designates that employers are responsible for providing a safe work environment for all employees. The Supreme Court established in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998) that "companies must prevent, and not simply react, to a hostile workplace."

Effects of Drug Abuse on Internal Security

Internal security is by nature a behavioral-based issue and the costs associated with not effectively managing it are staggering. For example, 17 percent of all violent crimes are committed in the workplace, and the cost of workplace violence alone exceeds $120 billion a year (U.S. National Institute on Occupational Health and Safety).

The relationship between violence, theft, on-the-job accidents and drug abuse is well-established. For example, the nationwide ADAM (Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program) survey notes that approximately two-thirds of all arrestees, male and female, test positive for drugs. Other studies show that over 50 percent of on-the-job accidents are related to drug abuse (National Council on Compensation Insurance), 47 percent of inventory shrinkage is due to employee theft and up to 65 to 80 percent of employee theft is drug-related (National Retail Federation, NRF, Annual Study 2004).

Despite those statistics and the obvious importance of internal security at both construction sites and office environments, many contractors fail to employ proactive management techniques.

Solutions are Available

Traditional tools such as background screening, including drug testing, are a start in the right direction. Today, organizations are enhancing hiring procedures to include employment screening processes focused on screening out violence-prone applicants before they are hired.  Interviews include carefully worded questions to ascertain negative behavior traits to eliminate undesirable candidates. Typical screening tools include one or all of the following:

  • Reference checking regarding previous employers
  • Background checks, e.g., criminal background
  • Verification of identify
  • Driving record
  • Credit history
  • Drug testing

Benefits of Drug Testing


Pre-employment drug testing and background screening of applicants is certainly helpful, but by no means sufficient. Random testing and specifically on-site oral fluid-based technologies used along with post-accident, reasonable cause and return-to-duty drug testing, provides the best possible drug-free workplace solution. Random testing is the most effective tool used for prevention as it deters drug use in the workplace. Unlike pre-employment testing, it's not an "IQ" test. With pre-employment testing, drug abusers can simply avoid drugs for a week before applying for a job and will most likely pass a pre-employment test that is urine-based or even oral-fluid based. And drug abusers can easily defeat a urine-based test via sample adulteration or substitution. Only random, on-site oral fluid-based testing resolves this issue, and any issues related to privacy and degradation associate with urine-based testing.

Implementing a Drug Testing Program

Random drug testing programs, combined with pre-employment background screening are requisite components of an effective overall solution that benefits employers and employees alike. Oral fluid-based on-site random drug testing is singularly effective, as it can be administered virtually anywhere, by anyone (provided that the test administrators are trained and certified), at anytime in the workplace.

In addition to pre-employment screening and random drug testing, it is important to establish and document a zero-tolerance drug policy, actively train managers and conduct regular organizational assessments to measure success of the program.

Communication and collaboration cannot be over-emphasized relative to the development and implementation of any effective internal security program. It is important to involve all layers of management and employees, as well as appropriate third parties (e.g., sub-contractors, suppliers, insurers, unions, brokers). Internal security is everyone's responsibility to some extent, though, ultimately the employer's. All involved need to clearly understand the role they can play in creating a secure work environment.

Prevention is the name of the game, not punishment or "catching" people.  Everyone in the organization should be comfortable reporting threats, suspicious activities or actions of violence. Employees should feel equally comfortable seeking help from an employee assistance program (EAP), or other support services.

Types of Drug Testing Programs


Laboratory-based urine testing has been the accepted method of drug testing for more than twenty years. However, the process involves sending individuals to a collection site to donate an observed urine specimen. This process requires two to four days at a minimum. Furthermore, this test is easily "cheated" since few specimen collections are actually observed, and as a result, the process has been limited primarily to pre-employment situations. The process is also not gender-friendly. So, when you think about it, you lose several hours of employee time, you have to wait several days for the results and you can't be sure the results are accurate. Or, if you want to hire someone, you have to wait almost a week before they clear the drug test and can start working.

On-site tests for drugs-of-abuse can be conducted using various biological specimens (urine, hair, blood and oral-fluids). Oral-based tests have recently come to the forefront because of their unparalleled level of ease-of-use, acceptance and overall functionality for workplace environments. Oral-based testing can be done on-site under direct observation of the test administrator and can yield a result in five to fifteen minutes.  This technology solves the problems typically associated with urine testing such as sample adulteration and gender and dignity issues.

Legal Considerations

The federal government supports drug testing programs in the workplace sector and mandates that federal employees in safety-related fields be drug tested on a regular basis. Many states have drug testing guidelines that outline what an employer should and should not do.  It is important that employers determine what laws, if any, exist in the states where they conduct business to ensure their testing rules and procedures comply with state regulations.

Lawsuits involving drug testing can generally be broken down into two categories: 1) those that originate from un-hired applicants, employees who refuse to take the test or those who are discharged or disciplined for positive test results, and 2) members of the general public who may be injured or affected by a drug-using employee. Settlements in the former category are typically in the low thousands of dollars, while those in the latter are often in the millions. Overall courts are holding more companies responsible for mistakes made by poorly trained testing personnel operating without well-conceived guidelines. As courts have declared, there is enormous liability when a company does nothing or does the wrong thing in the face of clear evidence of drug and/or alcohol abuse.

Create a Safer Work Environment

Drug testing programs can be established and effectively implemented in six months or less.


Every dollar spent on drug testing typically yields one hundred dollars back to the corporation.  So why isn't your company proactively managing internal security?

The No. 1 obstacle to developing a proactive, preventive approach is the unfortunate reality that most executives and many managers in organizations don't believe this is a problem.

Surveys and case studies show that over 90 percent of employees want drug testing, including random drug testing. As an owner, safety or risk manager, your responsibility is to create a safer work environment. You can implement an effective background screening and random drug testing program this year, or to quote an excerpt from The Financial Impacts of Workplace Violence, The National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence: "Just think about how much fun it will be explaining to your company president or CEO why you chose to ignore the threat of workplace violence when your company is under siege by the news media, government agencies, attorneys, the community and family members of the victim(s) because you dismissed it as a low risk."


Construction Business Owner, July 2006